Monday, June 19, 2006

Are Users Part of the Open Source Community?

Recently, I have read a number of blogs and articles that make the assertion that users of open source software are not necessarily part of the open source community. They only count contributors as part of the community. To some extent, that can be true, but in others I don't believe that it is fair.

To the extent that users are individuals that put the software to good use, but never do anything, like submit a bug report, or help other users, then I would agree they are not part of the community. Of course, without users, then what is the purpose of the software to begin with? For any open source project to be successful, it must first and foremost, be useful, and therefore must attract users. This, in and of itself, makes users the single most important factor for an open source project.

From a best practice perspective, we all know that small development teams are the most productive, and there is a practical limit to the number of people who can contribute from a code perspective anyway. At least productively contribute to the code. Practically speaking, this means that to have a large scale community for an open source project, the vast majority of people involved in the project must be users.

Also, contribution shouldn't be viewed threw the limited lens of code contribution. There is testing, translations, documentation, answering other users questions, sharing your user experiences with other potential users, etc. These are all valuable contributions!

I contend that large numbers of users, are contributors to the open source projects they use. Even if they never write, or are incapable of writing, a line of code. In fact, they are the most important contributors, and shouldn't be viewed as someone outside "the community" of open source projects.

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