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What we talk about when we talk about communityMatthew Aslett, July 9, 2008 @ 8:45 am ET
Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker has written a couple of great posts recently on the subject of community, or more specifically the meaning of the term “community” as applied to the open source development process.
The posts are particularly interesting to me as they related to an unfinished blog post that has been sat on my desktop for several weeks as well as a recently published post regarding the vocabulary of development models. I think the definition of terminology used in open source is important to aiding the understanding of potential open source software users and customers.
As I wrote at the time: “For an example of why vocabulary is important, consider the role of Cathedral and the Bazaar in providing the industry a vocabulary with which to explain open versus closed development models.”
The definition of “community” is particularly important as it is such an over-used term in the industry that can actually mean very different things to different people. As Mitchell writes: “We talk about ‘community’ at Mozilla all the time. A lot of other people talk about ‘community’ as well. People use the word ‘community’ to mean many different things. Sometimes ‘community’ is used to describe a coherent, structured group and sometimes a diffuse, permeable set of people.”
She followed that post with another describing the concentric circles of community she sees at Mozilla. To put it briefly (please see Mitchell’s post for a full explanation of her definitions) they are:
Community of Practice – “At the heart of the Mozilla world is a set of people who share many things. We share code. We share goals. We share a set of values… We share specific means of collaboration… information repositories… a decision-making structure… and a clear set of basic rights… We share activities.”
Community of Action – “The people in this group may share our values, our goals, our decision-making processes for example, but develop their own ways of collaborating and their own sets of activities.”
Community of Interest – “Beyond this there’s a set of people who aren’t actively involved in creating Mozilla artifacts but are very supportive of our product or our mission.”
User Community – “An ever larger circle is the set of people who use our products. Some of these people are also in earlier concentric circles. But a number are not. They use Firefox because it’s a great product that meets their needs.”
Of course there are multiple communities beyond that, but it’s a start and Mitchell’s focus at the moment is on defining community from Mozilla’s perspective.
As for my unfinished post, it was a clarification of my own use of certain terms on this blog. It related to this post on the distinction between paying open source customers and community open source users. What I had written was this:
Community – I personally am in agreement with Linus Torvalds and John Mark Walker in that there is no (one) open source community. The term “community” is lazily over-used by commentators, analysts and journalists (and I myself have been guilty of this) when in fact there are many overlapping open source communities (vendor, user, developer, customer, investor etc).
Developer community – Contributors to the development of an open source project. Includes both internal employee developer/contributors and external user/contributors.
Community users – This is a term that I have starting using in recent weeks to avoid the problems involved with attempting to define a “user community”. By using the term “community users” I am referring to the users of free, community edition, open source products – both individuals and companies.
Customers – This should hopefully be pretty self-explanatory, but it is perhaps worth clarifying that I am using the term to refer to paying customers, rather than community users. An alternative term would be “commercial users” although that has issues, as noted in the comments below.
User community – I am going to try and avoid using this term wherever possible, although it could be used on occasions to refer to both community users and customers as a whole.
Unlike Mitchell’s concentric circles, the communities I was describing are potentially overlapping. I seem to remember trying to create a Venn diagram to illustrate the relationships between them although must have given up on that as I can’t find it anywhere.
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