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The Increasing Importance of Community 69

Jono Bacon writes "With the success of Ubuntu and Fedora, and the advent of OpenSuSE and Freespire, are businesses and distributions paying more attention to the community? The Increasing Importance of Community discuss this change in focus. What do you all think? Is the community now more of a priority?"
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The Increasing Importance of Community

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday May 01, 2006 @07:30AM (#15236099) Journal
    Yeah, community is important. In fact, it's becoming one of the new buzzwords in the fortune 500 company I work for. Blame Rupert Murdoch and the success of MySpace for that.

    It's a novel idea but "Communities of Practice" are now an enforced thing to take part in where I work. That's right, these CoPs are supposed to give us an opportunity to partake in idea creation and discussion ... so they are mandatory (a minor flaw in my opinion).
    With the success of Ubuntu and Fedora, and the advent of OpenSuSE and Freespire, are businesses and distributions paying more attention to the community?
    I think businesses are concentrating on community only so far as it will go to get them ahead in their market.

    If I take the word "businesses" to mean literally any kind of business (not just that one operating system maker we all know and love), then I'd propose something like General Motors. Do you think General Motors values community within their company? Probably not. I'm sure they think about local communities [gm.com] but I doubt they're concerned with the communities within their company. That was just an example, I have nothing for or against GM.

    Being able to post on a forum (anonymously, if you prefer) about anything from your working conditions to an idea you had is vital to the happiness of the workers. However, I've had bosses that I've pitched this to who just read it as a waste of company time--they feared addicts working the threads 24/7 (much like I do on Slashdot). I would prefer if they would see it as an investment in idea exchanges and employee satisfaction. Ha! That's not their concern!

    Back to the original topic, I think that Linux distributions should be more concerned about their corner of the market. Microsoft is their competition. They make an amazing operating system. They aren't going to win the casual computer user by creating a community. They will win them through marketing and raising awareness. It's a cold hard thing to say but I think most of the developers for Linux should be concentrating on educating users about what they can provide. I learned about Linux in college from a friend but, looking back, there's really no reason why some flash advertisement on the side of a website couldn't have done the same.

    If you're looking for reasons to get new users,
    "Tired of forking money over to Microsoft?"
    would probably be more effective than
    "Join a community of people who will become abrasive if you're not at their level of intelligence!"

    Now, if you're looking at keeping the users involved with the OS and the development of it, this community thing is the answer. I just don't think Linux distros risk losing that support. Their fanbase is extremely solid--the problem is that it is minute compared to Microsoft's.
    • You make several very good points.

      Unfortunately the digital community has all the same failings of a more traditional one amplified by the fact that anything said on a forum does not have direct consequences because it is not face to face communication and there is the matter of group think in a community all it takes is a few influential members and suddenly holders of other points of view become outcasts to the community as a whole. These three combined lead to a social group more easily controlled tha
    • Aren't we really talking about "buy-in", or some similar phrase (which escapes me at the moment).

      Having worked with Windows, Exchange, Linux and Sendmail, I have found that it is a great deal easier to get answers when there are a lot of people who are interested in the software. It is hard to be interested in Windows and Exchange. The systems are closed, and it is darned hard to find an answer when something goes wrong. This weekend I was "on hold" for two hours trying to get a lousy hotfix. It is really h
    • I find most of what you've said very insightful- however, there is one point I'd like address:

      They aren't going to win the casual computer user by creating a community.

      They may not win the casual user, but I'd argue that having a strong community can certainly do a lot for retention. People need answers to problems they're experiencing, and with Linux, the community is the place to get them. If you have a strong community, people will feel good about their decision to convert, and perhaps convince others to
  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Monday May 01, 2006 @07:48AM (#15236179)
    Very much like like politicians do, businesses make an enormous show of letting it be know how much they listen to "the community" all the while screwing thier customers/the-community anytime they can get away with it if they think they can make more money doing it.

    <rant>
    It's all part of the growing awareness by businesses that the world is full of blind-following, short-memory, fanboy, brand-fanatic idiots which, as long as they are being fed plenty of PR, will keep buying (not to mention singing praises to) crummy products even when they feel THAT sharp pain in their backsides.

    ["Sony rootkit, Sony bad, Sony bad! .... PS3 .... uhhhh shinnyyy!!!"]
    </rant>
  • by Goo.cc ( 687626 ) on Monday May 01, 2006 @07:49AM (#15236182)
    I don't think we should ever underestimate the value a community can create for an operating system. I think the Mac is a great example of this.
    • I don't think we should ever underestimate the value a community can create for an operating system.: Yes, I get that, no arguments here.

      I think the Mac is a great example of this.: Now you've lost me, please explain.

    • I'm not sure what is more frightening, that the parent thinks the way he does or that he got moderated +4, insightful, rather than +5, funny.
    • So is OS/2. Go Team OS/2! ;-)
    • Why? How is the Mac community leading the way on this front? This is only swallowable if you happen to hang out on some Mac site for too long. Are you perhaps insinuating that the Mac community don't suffer from trolls or bad manners because they are, altogether a better class of user, (largely because Macs and Mac software are more expensive than Windows or Linux)?

      If so, sounds pretty elitist to me.

      Personally, I think there are great communities to be found on most OSs, but they take a while to find.
      • I say this because, being a small group compared to the Windows user base, being a Mac user is often akin to being in a club. There are many great Mac boards on the Internet, not to mention websites, mailing lists, and user groups. It does give Mac users a sense of community and I suspect that more than a few Macs have been sold because of this.

        I have observed the same thing about BeOS when I was using it in 1999-2000, even though BeOS didn't suceed. The BeUserTalk mailing list was a lot of fun back then, w
  • by bryankwalton ( 872344 ) on Monday May 01, 2006 @07:49AM (#15236184)
    Not to knock ubuntu, fedora, freespire, and opensuse, but the Debian [debian.org] community has been around since 1993. It is a highly evolved community with established processes for handling the politics, policy, and code developed for it. It is interesting that Debian isn't even mentioned by the OP. The Debian community, IMHO, is the model for everything else.
    • No, it's not. I've seen rants at the Mandrake forums and the Gentoo forums that people left Debian because of the community. Attempts to get their questions answered were resulting in that abrasiveness that's so well known in free software arenas.

      Debian's community is the archtypical model of how to not have a community.

      I've had good luck at both of the places I've mentioned. I especially like the Gentoo's. If you have a piece of software that isn't very well supported by its author, or which is hard to use because it's new and not often configured, you can probably find a guide or something in the Gentoo How-To-wiki.

      If you find a quirk in a piece of software that is resulting in unintended behaviour, you can search the forums or bug reports, and probably someone else has encountered the same problem (and if the problem is at least two weeks old, then there's probably a fix).

      And if you're not keen for any reading at all to find newbie answers, you can often find help on the Gentoo IRC group (keeping in mind that almost nobody with a job actually hangs out on IRC). If you're willing to wait long enough for a quality answer, you can also get one from the forums. They're known for that, actually.

      I've got Debian running at work. Whenever I have a problem with it, I go to one of those places to get it fixed. While the fact that Debian has some community support is laudable, the difference between those communities I mentioned and Debian's is like the difference between a public library and an elementary school's, IMHO.
      • Using the support list alone is an amazing community resource. users-debian and so on make life EASY.
      • I'm a Debian-user and I love Debian, but sadly enough, I have to agree. I've never even posted on the Debian forum, just went there once to read, and went into the IRC channel one time. I saw "RTFM" so much I think some of the people there must keep that acronym loaded in their clipboards at all times. In addition, I've heard complaints for years that the Debian-developers don't listen -- after all, they just recently put out an easy-to-use installer, which users have been clamoring for a long time. Many sa
    • Debian is to the Linux community as Slashdot is to Web 2.0. It shows up the new buzzwords for what they really are - a shiny rebranding of a not-so-new idea.

      I think a lot of stuff has to go through this process though. This buzzword period is kind of like the idea coming of age.

    • by kfg ( 145172 ) on Monday May 01, 2006 @08:23AM (#15236337)
      The Debian community, IMHO, is the model for everything else.

      We all know that Linux is nothing but community, but that isn't the issue at hand. The issue at hand is just what role does community play in the field of commercial distros such as Red Hat and SuSe.

      Get thee hence and read the actual article. It really isn't all that bad. You'll find that Ubuntu is brought up rather than Debian because Ubuntu is an attempt to make a commercially viable distro on the Debian model of community; and not just "ripping off" its code base for profit.

      This puts it in an entirely different catagory from either the true community supported distros such as Debian and the purely commercial distros such as Linspire. It seeks, and at the moment largely defines, the middle ground between the community and the commercial corporation. The very ground the article is addressing as its point of interest.

      Fedora, OpenSuSE and Freespire are essentially attempts to "reverse engineer" an Ubuntu type of community from a corporate culture. To bring "community" on board and retain relevance in the community drivin Linux world. They cannot attempt to reverse engineer a Debian type of community in the strict sense because they are all commercial distributions.

      Although I tend to detest its use in the IT field, the phrase "impedence mismatch" comes to mind.

      If it makes you feel any better Debian isn't specifically mentioned because Debian is the meta concept that the article stands upon. It is assumed as the natural state of things; and that we all share that assumption.

      KFG
    • Not to knock ubuntu, fedora, freespire, and opensuse, but the Debian community has been around since 1993.

      Not to knock the various Linux distributions, but it seems that the Linux community in general embraces binary blobs drivers. and kernel developers put shit like NDIS wrapers into the kernel or drivers written under NDA.

    • It just wouldn't be Slashdot if there wasn't some Debian whoring to accompany an article about Linux...it's like the chorus of a song. You can almost set your watch by it. ;)

      Repeat after me, kids:-

      (After having messed your hair up, injecting some salt water into your eyes for that rabid, bloodshot look, and using a hoarse, wheezing scream for emphasis)

      "Debian IS Linux!"
    • The way I see things, Community is both a godsend and a liability. Communities tend to create structures, and structures beget hierarchy. Once you have Hierarchy, then you have the issue that some members of the community are inherantly more "valuable" than others. They have more power, and they can opress others (and almost always do in some way or another).

      Then there's the problem of resources. There are a finite number of people available to work on projects, and if communities keep popping up, you'r
    • The rule that makes community work is the same rule that makes our lives work: always remember that constructive things work together, destructive things do not. [Note that criticism can be constructive or purely destructive.]

      So if we want anything to work, we have to build, not tear down. Pointing out flaws can be ok, if we are not just being mean about it. Trashing a system, then designing a better one is great. Trashing a system, then creating a second, third...nth one in addition (the current Linu

    • What, you mean the model of releasing a new version every 5 years? Great!
  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Monday May 01, 2006 @07:51AM (#15236189) Homepage
    Let the users find the bugs and develop the community version of the OS and take everything that works well and put it into your commercial offering. Seems to work for RedHat so far. But then again, they already had a strong community to begin with. Might work well for SuSE too. But Linspire? We'll see...
  • by DarkNemesis618 ( 908703 ) on Monday May 01, 2006 @07:54AM (#15236203) Homepage
    Without the Linux Community, I would never have been able to properly set up Ubuntu on my computer. It's nice to know that strangers are willing to get together and help complete newbs like myself get started with Linux.
    • Re:It is important (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Otter ( 3800 )
      Without the Linux Community, I would never have been able to properly set up Ubuntu on my computer.

      I think that's kind of the point -- it's become clear to companies that formally supporting home desktop users is a dead end, so they're writing them off as an official market and leaving them to "the community".

    • I don't know why this got modded funny, for me it is very true and accurate (insightfull would probably be better). anyway, I've had a similar experience with fedora, the forum that I go on (fedoraforum.org) has a lot of people who are willing and able to help and it's been really useful as a complete n00b to it to get going... unless I've missed out on the joke (due to being a n00b) and the Ubuntu people are actually nobs, in which case I look like one now...
  • by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Monday May 01, 2006 @08:10AM (#15236265)
    The psychology and social structure of a bunch of disparate programmers who are not on your payroll is a pill just too difficult to swallow, and one that is usually farmed to the bottom of the 'lets do this' pile.

    Are we all just difficult pills? Or are we the cure to the boring workplace?
    • The psychology and social structure of a bunch of disparate programmers who are not on your payroll is a pill just too difficult to swallow, and one that is usually farmed to the bottom of the 'lets do this' pile.

      Are we all just difficult pills? Or are we the cure to the boring workplace?

      From the beginning of that paragraph in the article: The mistake a number of companies, both large and small have made when approaching Open Source is that they lack an understanding of the people who drive the tech

  • But one that will help you fix your product, not just tell you what they like and don't like. And they'll do tech support for free, too.
  • Hmm let me guess, version 5.0?
  • I thought it was brand new. If it took off like a rocket, please link me. I'm lazy.
  • Being honest, I've never actually seen a concrete definition of what the word "community" in the context of Linux actually means.

    However, by implication I've tended to suspect that Richard Stallman intended it to refer to his vision of a relatively small, highly insular group of individuals who, while being interested in mutual co-operation within said group, were distrustful at best (and openly contemptuous or hostile at worst) of outsiders. It also seemed to me to refer to a group environment in which a p
    • There is a difference between theory and practice; the theory is clearly to strengthen Free Software. In practice, lead developers haven't got much time to devote to helping people who sometimes could have painlessly taught themselves the solution to their problems.

      It seems pretty disingenuous to call GNU and the FSF insular - they have exponentially grown in their significance and users since the early nineties.

      As far as cults, basically every group of any importance does seem like a cult to outsiders - to
  • Gentoo did it best before them all - people that don't talk down to you when you have a linux question.
    • Gentoo is the only distro I recommend solely for the community. I'm actually in awe of how well the forums, wiki, bug tracker and handbook work and it puts just about every other organization, commercial or not, to shame.
  • Absolutely (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Chemisor ( 97276 ) on Monday May 01, 2006 @01:57PM (#15239320)
    The community becomes more and more important every day. Since many developers "forget" to write documentation for their applications, the end users are more and more dependent on the community to get their free stuff working. And every remark like "did you RTFM, you $%#$ing n00b?" or "go play with your Windows, loser, if you don't want to learn stuff", certainly makes a lasting impact in the mind of the user community.
    • Since many developers "forget" to write documentation for their applications

      You seem to have a deep distrust of developers. They are people too. Maybe once the nicer members of a community have helped you, you could help write those all important documents.

      "did you RTFM, you $%#$ing n00b?" or "go play with your Windows, loser, if you don't want to learn stuff"

      Those reactions are heavy stereotypes, unless you always ask flamebait questions or are running before you can walk. And on getting the occasional ins
      • > You seem to have a deep distrust of developers

        Damn right! You know why? Because I am one. I happen to be one of those who actually write documentation, and I can't tell you how lonely I've felt in this :)

        > Those reactions are heavy stereotypes, unless you always ask flamebait
        > questions or are running before you can walk.

        Those reactions are actually direct quotes. There was a Slashdot article about that some time last month. In my personal experience, tech support for OSS projects has gotten mean
        • Woah there. I think you overreacted a little. I did say "(I don't mean you necessarily, but new users seeking help.)"

          So I didn't intend to put words in your mouth, but maybe it came out that way. You did put words in mine though. I don't think developers demand or necessarily deserve reverence. I do think there are quite a few problems with Linux distros. I never tell people to fix it themselves.

          Just that there seems to be a lot of complaining about free help here on /..
          • > Woah there. I think you overreacted a little.

            Perhaps so. It is one of my perpetually scratched festering sores. Sadly, this one is well justified.

            > I don't think developers demand or necessarily deserve reverence.

            You haven't spent much time working with OSS developers then. I do try to help out with various projects now and then, if only to get them to compile clean. You'd be amazed at what rude, arrogant, blistering morons I have ran into. It really saps any faith one might have had in the future o
  • Is Community becomming more of a priority in business?

    I think with business that use Community as an accessory to their business will never achieve the success they hope for. Many large corporations have started adding executive blogs and these are useful but do not really engage the reader to comment, ask questions, and feel like they "matter." These kinds of attempts at community feel wrong to me - like the Leader is giving a speech or address rather than soliciting interaction. Also, it tends to fee

  • I have mixed feelings about this trend. On one hand, it's nice to be able to be part of a community steering your favourite distribution, that is be able to help improve it/influence where it goes.

    On the other hand I don't think that it always works as good as it sounds at first. I'm a long time Linux user, and I personally think that SuSE 10.0, the first community influenced version, was laking in quality. For the very first time I got an error message box during installation (that wasn't caused by a defec
  • well choice is one so the fact that there is a more open feedback and availability with some of the other distro's is a good thing at the end of the day theres always going to be distro wars but the fact that there is a choice is what is needed and maybe the companies mentioned can see that the closed source , ignoring feature requests , and not meeting user request is the one thing that microsoft seem to fail on and that failing is going to eat away at there sails so at least these companies can see wh
  • The community always was important. Some folks just forgot that or were blinded by greed.

    Vik :v)
  • One year ago I was a 'nix n00b. Now after posts galore I'm a happy Fedora user who has managed to migrate everything over to 'Nix aside from my media centre (damn proprietary remote controls LOL) and games (DOH) W/out the happy helpful Fedora community I would not have been able to learn more about Nix in a year than 8 years of M$ (and I am an old school DOS 5.0 man who spent their first month of PC usage reading the DOS manual) The community is one of the BIGGEST factors in getting new users into 'Nix +
  • I think transparency is important for both...
  • It's true not just in open Linux / open source - it's true everywhere now.

    As a consultant - all I do is help startups and organizations really "get" this whole community thing. Many \
    factors are pushing it, but mostly increased communication.

  • More than 48 hours since being posted, an item titled " The Increasing Importance of Community" on Slashdot has a grand total of 68 comments - less than a quarter that of the following article about some arcane Sun filesystem maybe being ported to Apple. Holy shit.

    Pretty much says it all, doesn't it? Community decay at it's very finest.

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