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Where have all the community managers gone?Jay Lyman, January 13, 2009 @ 9:55 pm ET
Over this summer, at OSCON, LinuxWorld, other events and in briefings and other conversations, I saw and heard a lot about the importance of community managers and in the time leading up to last fall, community manager was a hot enterprise topic and hot enterprise job in open source and in the industry in general.
However, as we have seen open source vendors trimming headcount just like many other companies in search of controlling costs and weathering the storm during recent months, community managers seem to be on the line among the layoffs. It’s not surprising to see these positions — which bridge commercial and community open source and tie vendors to their developers and users — thriving when times are good and companies are willing to invest in community, but suffering in difficult times, when the community may seem a less critical investment. This can be particularly true as vendors look at their sources of revenue and consider cuts wherever they can outside of that.
However, as we covered in an interesting discussion of the value of community on our last CAOS podcast, there is opportunity in sustaining an open source community in difficult times, even though it may be less of a revenue producer and more of an investment given users, developers and other community members are even less likely to be paying. Don’t get me wrong, there continue to be key people serving as community managers, and I invite them to chime in on whether or not they’re seeing colleagues on the block. Still, we’ve seen more than a few community-centered positions among the layoffs from open source vendors.
In the end, open source vendors that are willing and able to continue building, strengthening and investing in their communities — and we do see vendors catering to community users and even monetizing them via per-incident support, documentation and other services — are the ones who will benefit most when things begin turning around.
We’re hearing a lot of comparisons to the last downturn, the dot-com one, and how it helped fuel a wave of commercial open source software use, development and credibility. As organizations clamp down on costs and salaries, they will be tempted to let open source communities function more on their own, but while a healthy community may continue given a broad membership of developers, users, and others, companies risk weakening or losing their community connections without community managers and support.
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