The announcement of the GNOME Mobility & Embedded
Initiative was generally popular within the GNOME project itself. There
was one complaint
which could be heard in
the right places, however: it seems that this whole initiative was
conceived of and agreed to without the involvement of the GNOME marketing
team. One might well ask: if the marketing team does not get involved in
an agreement like this one, what does the project keep it around for?
There's a couple of responses which are worth a read. Dave Neary, a member
of this team, had some stark comments:
Here it is again: no-one cares about the marketing team. We produce
nothing. We have not shown ourselves to be useful. So no-one is
going to come and talk to us about anything until that changes.
Jeff Waugh, the driving force behind the embedded initiative, states:
We make things happen by taking the reins, establishing buy-in, and
kicking arse. Not by waiting to receive blessing or permission.
One might well argue that the GNOME marketing team has failed to live up to
expectations. Some members of the team are doing so and beginning to think
about ways to change that situation. As a result, we might well see a more
active team in the future.
But there is a question which is worth asking here: to what extent might
the comments quoted above apply to any project's marketing team? It
might just be that a project which is trying to grow its user and
development community has little to gain from the formation of a marketing
In the corporate environment, a marketing team takes a leading role in
identifying potential customers, designing something that those customers
might just want to buy, and finding ways to motivate customers to make that
purchase. Once a marketing strategy has been worked out and adopted, the
rest of the company is expected to work to execute that strategy. In
successful companies, marketing tends to lead the way.
Most free software projects are not amenable to this sort of leadership.
What gets done in free software is what individual developers decide to do
- or are told to do by their employers. Paid developers may well be
working toward the execution of a marketing plan, but it's their employer's
plan, not the project's plan. Free software hackers will be working to
make a project better, but they are not marching to the project's drummer.
They will not seek approval from a project's marketing team when they
decide what to hack on.
The same is true of project members who work to create initiatives or
alliances in a specific area. GNOME's support of embedded applications
comes as a result of work by interested developers and the companies which
are operating in that area. It was a natural consequence of the way the
embedded market is going; there was no need for a marketing team to
foresee, plan for, or mandate a bigger role for GNOME in the embedded
marketplace. If a GNOME marketing group were to call for such a role, it
would have little effect on GNOME developers working on more traditional
desktop applications. Free software projects are not corporations; free
software users and developers will not wait for a marketing group to sign
off on their plans.
Some projects do have marketing organizations which appear to be effective.
The push behind the Firefox browser is arguably one of the most prominent
examples; the alliances and promotional campaigns which have been arranged
have undoubtedly helped to increase adoption of the software. The
marketing of packages like MySQL has also been effective. There is a
pattern to be seen here: in almost all of the cases where a free software
project has had an effective marketing operation, that project is owned and
controlled by a single corporation. In such cases, the project's marketing
plan is, in fact, a component of the company's plan; it's the company's
control of the project which allows its marketing objectives to drive what
the project does.
In the absence of that sort of control, it's not clear what a free software
project's marketing team can achieve. Certainly a marketing group can
point out areas of opportunity in the hope that developers will choose to
pursue those opportunities. Such pointing-out must be done carefully,
though; free software hackers tend to be irritated by those who seem to be
trying to tell them what to do. Marketing teams can also fulfill a useful
sales role by, for example, organizing booths at trade shows, distributing
live CDs, convincing distributors to package the software, etc.
But it's not the marketing group which will bring about a project's
success; that depends on the code, artwork, music, documentation, support,
etc. provided by the project's members. A project is made by its
community, not by a marketing plan. It's hard to imagine wanting that to
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