Posted on 24/9/06 by Felix Geisendörfer
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Alright, after some talk in #cakephp today, sealing my first individual ad deal with Walter Hamilton of Visicswire who is one smart cookie to advertise on ThinkingPHP.org and discovering this little SEO blog about digg marketing in Alexa's mover's and shakers, I decided to do a little experiment:
The question is this: Is it possible to raise money for Cake Software Foundation by writing a post called "5 Innovative Ways Open Source Can generate Money!", and meanwhile earn some money for yourself?
Well I don't know, but if this post makes it to digg.com's homepage, I'll donate 75% of the ad income generated by it to the foundation. So if you've not donated, anything to the best PHP framework so far, go ahead and digg this story! But let's get the promised article going:
#1 - Leverage the community to provide commercial support:
The idea of using paid support to finance the costs of open source development is old and not very effective. The problem is that the developers are already way too busy maintaining the project, and there is no money for paying people to deliver support. However, while talking in #cakephp today, a completly new idea was born. What would happen if you would leverage the real power of open source to deliver the support? The people who are doing the support for free right now anyway? The Community!. All you have to do is to setup a web site where newbies can sign up and pay $5-10 to get a support account with 5-10 credits. Whenever they ask a question it's gonna cost them 1 or more credits to have it answered. The people who answer this questions are simply active members of the community who answer those questions for free and let the money go to the foundation. And using credits instead of single transactions is a practical way to process micropayments via paypal without loosing most of the money on transaction fees! But before I loose myself in the details of this new idea, here comes the next:
#2 - Donation in the moment of Salvation:
Yeah, most open source projects have figured out that putting up donation buttons is probably going to be a good idea. However, most of them put them up on the front page and hope the brute force of visitors seeing them is gonna lead to a good cash flow. While that might starts to work at a certain point, I recommend a different approach. Get people to see those donation links in the moment they feel most satisfied with the project! When people come to the main page, they either want to get the latest version, find the solution to a frustrating problem in the manual or compare the project with others. They are simply not in donation-mood. So the trick is to catch them in the moment of salvation, the moment where they feel happy about using the project the most. Now it doesn't take a genius to figure this out, but the logical consequence is to put a request for donation in each chapter/passage of the manual. When reading the docs of an open source project, nobody is angry about reading a little "If this documentation has helped you, please consider to make a small donation so we can improve this project even further."-text link every once in a while. Far from it! If this passage has just cleared a problem for them, their mouse will be magically drawn to click by their (bad) conscience.
#3 - Create merchandising:
If you read this, chances are you are pretty geeky. And what do we geek's like the most? Ok, I can only speak for myself, but personally I love decent looking geek ware that's impossible for outsiders to decipher. It's a little expensive to ship to Germany, but at some point I'll definitely get myself a nice CakePHP T-shirt and so will others. With cool services like CafePress, almost every open source project can get it's own merchandising collection rolling. All you need is a crafty designer and some smart slogans and you're ready to go!
#4 - Generate some Buzz:
Everything is useless if you are not able to get a decent amount of blogsphere murmur, guerilla marketing, and competitor crushing going on for yourself. That's all this blog post is about, that's all the web 2.0 hype is made out of, and that's a major factor in whether an open source projects succeeds or not. Now for tips on how to do this, I would take a look at this site I discovered today, and in case you've gotten to this page via digg.com, their advice is probably fairly decent. What ever you might think about this strategy, it's unarguably one of the key strength Ruby on Rails was able to build upon.
#5 - Have high standards / Provide good Quality:
Ok, every single one of you would have quit reading this article if I would have putten this point at the top. It's not innovative, it's not exciting and yet it's the #1 - no question about it. When you write an open source application, targeting the smartest developers, early adopters and other highly skilled individuals to try it out, there is simply no way to get away with bad quality. In my humble oppinion, Mozilla Firefox would not be used by 70% of my readers if they would have just settled for something slightly better then IE. CakePHP would have not gotten very far if it wasn't for their very well thought out coding standards and strict policy on IP. And this blog wouldn't have gotten the decent readership it has now, if I wouldn't have spent hours on refactoring the code snippets posted on here. [...]. I know it's tempting to get the first volunteers on your dev team as soon as interest starts coming up, but if those people don't happen to be excellent coders, you've just burried the project. Don't think because you provide something for free, people will expect less, quite the contrary is true. In my oppinion people expect far more from open source then they do from closed software. Because now not only the quality of the results is under observations, no, every underlying snippet of code will be object of examination and critic. However, this is also what allows open source to raise the bar in terms of code quality, because hundreds of eyes see more then the ones of a few developers.
Time to go home
Alright, it's time for all of you guys to go back to the social bookmarking service, the community driven news oracle, the news aggregator or whatever scary web 2.0 place you've come out of. The show is over, I've done enough ranting and raving and in case this never makes it to the digg.com homepage I've just embaressed myself pretty decently. But oh well, since I was planning to do this anyway, there wasn't much I could loose.
Thanks for stopping by, and come back again on monday to read a buzz-free article about "How to learn from the CakePHP source code" the next time.
--Felix Geisendörfer aka the_undefined
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