The importance of marketing to open-source projects

Open source may make better software, but marketing is what makes people care enough to download it.

In the midst of Ars Technica's review of the utility of free online music, the tech site notes something of critical importance to open source, too:

As free music becomes common, though, the real battle will shift to marketing/press/PR. When a few acts are releasing free albums, it's easy for listeners to sample them; when everyone does it, artists are suddenly competing for people's time and attention, and even free downloads won't be enough to attract listeners without building some buzz.

Exactly. At one time it was enough to be the "open source Exchange" or the "open source Siebel" or whatever. No longer. There's simply too much open-source software out there to stand out as the "open-source XXXX." You have to market the "XXXX" if you want to have a hope of success.

Yes, open source remains a viable development methodology, one that can deliver exceptional software. But it's not enough. To be disruptive, open source also requires viral distribution. The hidden requirement in all of this is that someone has to care enough about the project in the first place to download it, and then talk about it and spur further distribution.

The "caring" aspect? That's marketing.

Open-source companies and community projects that don't invest in marketing will fail. This may not mean traditional marketing (e.g., print advertising, email campaigns, etc.) and, in fact, probably does not. But it must involve some element of getting the word out.

Otherwise, who will know to download and try it out?

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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