Fosdem: Engaging Enterprise consumers of OSS

Read time: 3 mins

At Fosdem 2020 I gave a talk entitled “Engaging Enterprise customers” . This was an interesting talk for me to give as it sat at the intersection of many things that I am passionate about;  Open-source, mass collaboration, community building, and business. You can watch the full talk on the Fosdem website

If we are going to find the next million or 10 million developers, we can't keep going back to the same pool of open-source developers. We need to engage the ninety-plus percent of developers that do not participate, collaborate with, or contribute to open source development many of whom work for larger organization - Enterprise organizations if you will.  In this short twenty minute talk I explore some of the reasons why these developers do not engage accounting for motivation and focusing on project structure and governance models.

With a few tweaks to project management on the open source project side in addition to updates to sites like Github, Gitlab, and the git spec to include “on behalf of” and “ability to engage” I think we can significantly increase contributions through proper expectation setting. Many open source projects want long term contributors, but many folks are only available short term.  

After the presentation I took a few questions and one of those questions stuck out to me. The question was how do we engage some of these individuals that come to an open source project, post a pull request and disappear, or make contribution and don't follow up. How do we convert them to be long term contributors? 

My answer during the session was short: Perhaps, we don’t.

During the talk I didn’t have much time to elaborate, but I believe that we do not have to engage every individual that pokes their head into an open source project. Having an on-boarding path is a great model to get more people engaged and I do feel strongly that we need to constantly seek out new maintainers, collaborators, contributors, documentarians, and more that will help to sustain our projects. However, we should not have an expectation that everyone will want to be onboard and stick around forever. Some, might want to only stick around for a few minutes or days. We must embrace these short-term contributors.

Embracing and distinguishing between short and long term contributors is highly beneficial to projects. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that our software and tooling helps us to quickly differentiate from contributors that will stick around for a short time or a long time. At the end of my talk I made some suggestions on what we can do about that.

For example: Github has a great “On-behalf-of” feature that can help distinguish if the user is engaged on a personal level or on a company level, either of which may be fleeting. Making this easier to use, might help engage more individuals.

Drupal has had this for a while and it’s been successful to identify the source of code based contributions. I'd love to see this expanded to all open source projects.