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Open-source mechanics: Marketing through community segmentation

Open source is not a case of "build it and they will come." It takes real marketing to make it work.

Hal Steger and Alberto Onetti - both of mobile open-source leader Funambol - discuss open-source marketing in the Enterprise Open Source Journal. Well worth a read, especially for those who persist in believing that open source succeeds in the absence of good marketing. In fact, real commercial success in open source comes as a direct result of savvy marketing. They write:

The sooner an open source company comes to grip with the reality that it needs to practice standard marketing techniques such as segmentation, target marketing, and direct marketing, the better it will be.

Obviously, these techniques need to be adapted and adjusted to take into account the appropriate ways to communicate and interact with open source community members, so we're talking about the blending of two disciplines, marketing and community relations.

A widespread stereotype about open source is that communities mainly consist of hardcode hackers who only contribute code. In reality, communities are comprised of many different types of people, each of whom has their own interests, motivation, needs, and ability to contribute.

The truth about community is somewhat more complicated, Steger and Onetti write, requiring traditional marketing segmentation to effectively feed and harvest from one's communities. How one does this is non-trivial but critically important.


Steger and Onetti propose several different methods, and then walk through the Funambol experience, which I find particularly valuable because I believe that Funambol, more than most open-source companies, recognized the distinction between different types of community members and has worked hard to interact with them differently.

To the right you'll find a chart showing how Funambol segments its community members. I love how it differentiates between those that have strategic value but low dollar value, and those that have high dollar value but low dollar value. This is one of the dirty secrets of open source: not everyone that gives you code will give you cash. In fact, there's often an inverse relationship between the two: lots of code probably means little cash, and lots of cash probably means little code.

This is an important read for anyone who hopes to make a dime in open source. Or many tens of billions of them.