Building successful online community for open-source development

2012-05-30 / The Work Department

In order to help build the most effective Commotion online community, we’ve conducted basic research to gain an understanding of infrastructures that other software development communities use. We focused on open-source projects that are used widely. We found that, while a variety of communication strategies, governance structures, and social cultures exist, there are some shared elements that appear to make a community strong and effective. In our full report to the Open Technology Initiative, we reviewed Drupal, Mozilla, Android, and Ubuntu Linux. In this post, we include a simplified comparison of those communities and share the conclusions we drew from our research. Overview
See an overview of some large open-source projects (PDF)
Recommendations for Commotion Online Presence Because Commotion is a new and evolving project, we see an excellent opportunity to build an effective online community by implementing the best practices used by other open-source communities. Commotion’s online presence should easily direct different audiences (developers, users, journalists, funders) to the information they need the most while encouraging community interaction and collaboration. Potential Site Outline Based on our current understanding of Commotion’s needs, we’ve created the following simple outline for the project’s complete website. We will develop a more detailed sitemap in the next phase of our work. Over time, of course, the Commotion website should evolve to meet the needs of developers and users. This will require that Commotion leaders pay close attention to those needs and quickly respond to feedback and innovation from the community.

  1. Home Page (include a Get Involved area and Getting Started area)
  2. Blog (managed by an editing team or committee)
  3. About
  4. Documentation
    • User Manual
    • Design Guidelines
    • Human Interface Guidelines
    • Community Governance
  5. Project Partners (Open Technology Initiative, Guardian Project, OpenBTS, Serval Project)
  6. Developers (goes to
  7. Press

Open Governance In order to promote long-term investment and encourage a wide array of contributors to get involved, we recommend that OTI establish a clear and written governance structure for the Commotion project. This should include roles of various people in the community and general expectations for how contributors should work together and make key decisions. Many examples are available from other projects. The governance structure should be posted on the Commotion site and be recommended reading for all newcomers to the project. This will help contributors understand how they can be involved and how their work will be valued. Future Considerations Translation and other localization work should be planned at an appropriate time in the future. The communities that we evaluated each have specific areas of their sites dedicated to localization efforts. This is also a good opportunity for non-programmers to contribute to the project. Want more? Read our full report at the Commotion wiki.