Should open-source companies fire their community members?

How do you deal with a pesky community member? Do you "fire" them?

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay
2 min read

In response to a middling post of mine on whether open-source companies offer better support than proprietary companies, Russ Danner shot back a list of questions that really set me to thinking. One, in particular, pushed my thinking on open source:

Sometimes you need to fire customers, is it ever appropriate to fire a community member?

"Firing a customer" refers to getting rid of customers who cost a company too much money to service/support. All industries do this to greater or lesser degrees (if you have cancer, try getting a new health insurance provider in the U.S.), but I've never seen the question related to open-source communities.

Community is the lifeblood of an open-source project, after all. Don't needy, loudmouth community members contribute, too?

I don't know. I can see two sides of this. On one hand, you may have a person that is disruptive to 95 percent of the other community members. Or that person may simply be a massive time sink for the leading developers on a project. (With some people, you can never answer their questions to the level they'd like, and so you get sucked into a black hole of endless questions.)

On the other hand, what would those other 95 percent think if they saw a community member--even an obnoxious one--dumped from the forums? That doesn't sound like the sort of community I'd want to join, where your voice is only valid if you happen to be singing in tune with everyone else.

I suspect that the answer is to let the community--and not the company or project lead--sort it out. If you lay out the ground rules for participation in a community, you can effectively push overly needy community members back to the community for answers to their questions. If the community opts to silence the needy member ("Go check the FAQ! We've answered that a million times already"), then so be it.

What do you think? I imagine this is a fairly common occurrence. How have you/your companies dealt with this kind of issue in the past?