Dave Rosenberg, author of the previously mentioned report over at Release 1.0 on Open Source Community has also written a brief but interesting article on what he calls "the voodoo" of open source marketing, citing examples of MySQL, SugarCRM and Firefox. Since I've been in software marketing for twenty years, it's not voodoo to me, but it's clear marketing folks and developers often speak different languages. Engineers want to be factually correct and marketeers want to be dramatic. If an Engineer was marketing Sushi they might call it "cold dead fish"; technically correct, but not very compelling. Or putting it differently, if Engineers are from Mars, Marketing is from Uranus. (Yes, that's a joke.)
Though Rosenberg gets a bit over analytic citing John Seely Brown and John Hagel, the point is clear: developers like to contribute to the best projects and help make them successful. And while it's true that the best software doesn't always win, there are devoted fans to many good technologies even if they do not have a large market.
The Macintosh is a great example of this. While the Mac remains stuck well below 5% market share, among open source developers, I would guess it is much closer to 5 or 10 times that share. Certainly in MySQL we have lots of developers who use the Mac as their regular day-in-day-out development machine. And there are good reasons for this. The Mac is a fantastic development platform running a great GUI and offering the full power of Unix under the hood. I hope with Apple's decision to support Intel in 2006, the Mac platform will expand. It provides a nice counter balance against Windows. We've supported the Mac for many years at MySQL and I'd like for us to continue to do so. In fact, when I'm at Oscon next week, I'll do my usual informal survey of the conference keynote sessions to see how many Mac laptops I can spot.
There's more to Marketing than t-shirts and blogs, but the fundamental point is that Marketing is about communicating to your audience (in this case, developers) in a style that the audience respects. To be effective, you need to be very factual and leave out the usual "fluff." I've found that developers like to have technical information, examples and case studies and then they'll make up their own mind. Advertising isn't likely to do a whole lot for developers (most seem immune to it) but developers are usually interested in learning new things. One of the efforts we have under way at MySQL is to try to develop more channels of communication with our users, so that we can have a two way dialog and make it easier for people within the community to share information and learn from each other. That may not be marketing to many people, but it's an interesting intersection between Marketing and Community.
- IT Manager's Journal: Voodoo of Marketing an Open Source Project