One of the frustrating things about an open-source business is you don't generally know who is using your software. The paid customers you know, of course, but generally this represents a small fraction of the total user base.
In Alfresco's case, roughly 30,000 people download our software each month. Of those, maybe 4,000 to 6,000 register for documentation or give us their contact information in some other way.
Larry Augustin gave an excellent presentation [PDF] on this recently at OSBC. He talked about how to engineer a product to maximize conversions from downloads to dollars.
Today I found a new way. LinkedIn. What do I mean? And is this only something for open-source vendors?
I was searching for potential sales engineers, and initially did the standard searches: People in Chicago or Austin with Documentum, FileNet, Sharepoint, Java, etc. in their profiles.
Dense though I am, it eventually dawned on me to search for the word "Alfresco" in the LinkedIn database. What I found surprised me.
First, I discovered a wide range of people with Alfresco experience. Some are existing Alfresco customers and partners, some are employees. But a significant percentage include potential customers and partners.
Think about that. Wouldn't you rather hire someone that already knows your code? Wouldn't you rather engage a partner that has already done implementations of your software? Of course you would. LinkedIn can help.
Second, I found out how people are using Alfresco. A large stock exchange migrated from Interwoven to Alfresco. The world's top personal financial management software vendor uses our Community Edition to power its website. I wouldn't have known this but for LinkedIn.
I just did a search on "Mule" for my friend, Dave Rosenberg (CEO, MuleSource), and found some big-name customers and prospective partners using and promoting his software. He had no idea on these. That's just how open source is, but LinkedIn can help.
LinkedIn is just one source of data. I'm betting that there is interesting data sitting in Flickr, Facebook, MySpace (OK, maybe not), etc. All of these networks have data on what interests their participants. Someone needs to provide a way to search all that data from one query. That would be powerful.
In the meantime, I encourage you to check LinkedIn to see who loves your open-source project. You may be surprised (and pleased) to find out that careers are being built on your software.