Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have
Posted May 18, 2011 8:33 UTC (Wed) by dneary
In reply to: Evidence or urban legend - "problems" companies have
Parent article: Mark Shuttleworth on companies and free software
I've witnessed numerous cases where companies start to open something and have people attacking them publicly
As have I.
I would say that there are a number of factors at play here:
Companies who are honest about the extent of their investment in community projects get a lot of credit. Companies who are not honest about the extent of their investment (potentially to themselves) get criticised.
What I mean by this is: if a company makes an announcement that "we're releasing software X, it's going to be completely community run", and then the governance rules are blatantly skewed to favour the company, then they're going to be criticised. If instead they say "we're releasing this as open source software, but we plan to continue maintaining the core (but patch proposals are welcome)" they will get a free pass.
Companies who leave themselves open to criticism like this lose respect fast, and there is a significant faction in most communities that are extremely, aggressively harsh towards entities they don't respect.
This is not a good state of affairs - and I would like to see the vocal minority think of companies as groups of individuals, each worthy of basic respect, rather than a big amorphous entity that you can freely kick around without hurting anyone's feelings.
Companies which are trusted, and lose that trust, have a long, hard battle to gain it back.
Take the example of Sun, who announced open-sourcing of Solaris after a successful collaboration with GNOME. They never recovered from the criticism they got for OpenSolaris, Java, etc - and nothing they did (including for example relicencing Java as GPL) was good enough to regain the trust they'd lost by messing up the initial release of OpenSolaris. Canonical feels to me to be in a similar situation - slowly spending their community capital and progressively losing the trust of their supporters, until no matter what they do they will be criticised because it won't be good enough.
This is a really hard situation to be in as a company. If you mess up your first interaction with a project, you can spend years repairing the relationship & regaining trust. You do it in baby steps, by showing that you're learning, by entrusting individuals to represent you in communities, and by having those individuals do things in the community's interests.
On the other hand, I have seen companies progressively increase their interaction with communities, and each additional step is met with approval and thanks. Or companies that are forthright that while their product is free software, that they're going to maintain control of their core product, and that's been accepted by their user community. The difference is in the fall from grace and loss of trust. So my best advice to companies thinking about interacting with a free software community is: start small, be honest with yourself & others. Gain trust through your actions, and then handle that trust carefully.
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