Google: Model citizen of community development?

Is Google a friend or foe to open source? Communities don't seem to care, Matt Asay notes, because the company's strategy is overall successful.

Tech Culture

John Mark Walker, Hyperic's community lead, has an interesting take on whether Google deserves to be loved or loathed for its open-source community outreach.

John Mark is in the former camp and, increasingly, so am I. Google is the Teflon open-source company, contributing selectively and strategically...and winning kudos across the board.

Self-interested Google? Absolutely. But then, how many companies do you know that aren't self-interested contributors to open source? Walker notes:

I didn't say they were altruistic, but rather that they knew what they were doing with respect to community development. They invest in communities, many of them related to open source, and this devotion to community helps them tremendously. It helps them when they launch a new set of services because the communities they target will no doubt be the early adopters.

It helps when Google launches a new platform, such as Android, because its communities will be the source of a great number of hackers who will enjoy bending Android to their will.

I wonder, however, if Google gets a free pass on so many issues simply because developers are praying for an alternative to Microsoft's dominance? Perhaps many, or most, embrace Google, thinking, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Or perhaps Google has done an exceptional job of looking past the criticisms that I and others have thrown at its open-source efforts, and simply barrels forth. When you're on the top of your game, you can afford to do this.

I'm always bemused to see companies stop to throw stones back at critics, as if it's going to help their stock price. The only thing that silences critics is performance--something Google has had in spades.

Back to John Mark's point. Google has been exceptional in some areas of community development. The Summer of Code was a masterstroke of genius. Hiring key open-source developers such as Greg Stein hasn't hurt, either. Together, its open-source community outreach has been executed well, though not flawlessly.

Perhaps Google has more to teach us than advertising.

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