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PuppetLabs and Opscode Reveal How They Built Their Open Source Communities

by Matthias Marschall on Mar 19, 2013 |

Being nice to people and being explicit and transparent about how things are done are key ingredients for growing communities say both, Luke Kanies, CEO and founder of PuppetLabs, and Adam Jacob, co-founder of Opscode and creator of Chef. They both claim that you need to be genuine in the way you interact with your communities. PuppetLabs and Opscode both succeeded in building thriving Open Source communities alongside growing businesses.

“A lot of companies think you can force the creation of a community,” but you can’t, says Kanies during his keynote at ApacheConf. He adds that you need to be honest in answering questions, but transparency is not the same as openness. He isn't going to answer questions about funding or other topics that aren’t something he can disclose to the entire community. For Kanies it's essential to engage the community instead of simply announcing changes. The example he mentioned was the license switch from GPL to Apache. The process took months but eventually only two out of 3,000 community members complained.

Jacob told InfoQ that the foundation of a community is respect. Only if you take the community seriously do you have a chance to succeed. Being transparent in how you operate is essential. One example he mentioned was their Contributor License Agreement (CLA). People don't like the hassle of filling it out but it makes it absolutely transparent that every contributor has the exact same rights as Opscode.

Jacob emphasized that every company has a choice about which role it plays in the Open Source community around their products. A company can either consider their software as a gift to the community while keeping the rights to exploit contributions for themselves or a company can decide that every contributor should be equal. Opscode, he says, took the latter approach.

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