The Open Source Evangelism Paradox
by Brad Johnson, on Jul 19, 2019 12:45:39 PM
My job is convincing people to use free software. Intuitively, you would think it’s easier to sell something that’s free than convincing someone to pay you. It’s not.
Even if you’re not asking a developer for money, you’re still asking for value. Learning any new code project, open source or otherwise, requires a non-insignificant investment of valuable developer time and brain cycles. When the payoff outweighs the investment, developers are more than motivated to read your documentation and try your tutorials. That’s why it’s mission-critical to be clear and explicit about the benefit your solution offers potential adopters; it gives them a foundation to evaluate whether your project is worth the investment.
My coworker and Swim’s lead designer, Will Richards, is our internal champion for promoting empathy in design, whether for industrial control systems, mobile apps, websites, or t-shirts. His influence has permeated the way we build interfaces, design user flows, document code, and even write blogs. Empathy is an important part of every design, product and campaign, so it’s a good place to start when evangelizing open source software, too. First, you start by setting clear and honest expectations for potential users. Then you grow your open source ecosystem by reducing friction for user adoption with new tools, third-party integrations, SDKs, protocol connectors and other enhancements.
Content Marketing and Open Source Software
But even having set clear expectations, you still need to convince a developer to invest time and effort learning a new technology. This challenge is compounded when you’re trying to evangelize a technology that runs counter to the common wisdom of the software world, as is the case with Swim.ai. Our open source Swim project enables the creation of distributed, end-to-end streaming applications using a revolutionary stateful application platform. It’s built on top of a unique messaging protocol called WARP, which enables bidirectional multiplexing over single web socket connections. In fewer words, Swim enables massively complex real-time applications to run on an astoundingly simple decentralized application architecture. It’s even more awesome than it sounds, but it also sounds like a ton of risk for a developer evaluating new software projects.
The solution to this open source evangelism paradox is content marketing.
In the open source world, the most important raw material for content marketing is code. The second most important raw material is documentation written by the people who built the code. When these raw materials are made available, any number of code tutorials and videos, podcasts, blogs, powerpoint presentations, and infographics can be generated. Each of these materials can provide developers with additional information to evaluate new open source projects. But it’s the code and documentation that builds trust with potential adopters and proves that your project isn’t just overhyped vaporware.
A Commitment to Open Source Content
Like many nascent open source projects, Swim is primarily supported by a single company, the team at Swim.ai. As such, we’re constantly balancing the needs of our commercial efforts with supporting the Swim open source community. At our best, Swim.ai’s commercial efforts and the open source community feed each other. As we build things to satisfy customer requirements, we’re often able to spin out useful builds, examples, and tools for the open source repository.
Likewise, improvements to the open source Swim core strengthen the foundation for our commercial efforts. Lately, most of our engineering efforts have gone into building out our DataFabric commercial solution. As we wrap up those efforts, we’ll be sharing major improvements to Swim’s real-time UI capabilities, new monitoring tools, high availability features and more with our open source community. We remain committed to supporting developers as they build the most efficient, real-time distributed applications in the world on top of Swim. To those of you already using Swim in your real-time apps, thank you and we promise this is just the start. Stay tuned for more!