The five stages of community open source engagement

I wrote recently that the “five ages of vendor-led open source revenue strategies” I’d come up with wasn’t suitable for vendors that build a business around community-led projects.

I recently met up with Ian Skerrett, director of marketing at the Eclipse Foundation and while we were chatting about community engagement, amongst other things, he showed me a graphic that demonstrates why engagement with an open source community has its own five-stage process.

From Public photos

Source: Ian Skerrett, Eclipse Foundation. Based on research done by Carleton University and Nortel. For more see this post.

The five-stage process matches with what we’ve been hearing from a number of vendors recently as we’ve examined their attitudes towards open source. Some are further along the process than others while others have skipped a stage (or more accurately completed a stage in private before publicly announcing their engagement with open source).

The five stages, as I would describe them, are as follows:

Stage one (O in Ian’s graphic)

Stage two (1 in Ian’s graphic)
The vendor begins to make use of open source software internally as part of its ongoing research and development process, realizing that it can save money on non-differentiating code and improve interoperability.

Stage three (2 in Ian’s graphic)
There is a realization that open source is a two-way street and that to get the most out of the software it is using the vendor needs to contribute back to the process, helping to improve the overall quality of the code and making further savings on not having to support forked code.

Stage four (3 in Ian’s graphic)
The vendor begins to champion specific projects, and the open source approach in general, as it begins to see the full value of collaborating with partners and competitors in the development process.

Stage five (the right side of the dotted line)
Up until now the process has been largely led by engineering. The realization of greater value pushes the vendor over a line to realize that open source engagement needs to be business-led, rather than engineering-led. It begins to engage in multiple projects and realizes the true business benefits of open source engagement.

That’s my take anyway. Ian will no doubt have more insight. One of the reasons this works so well is that you can think of a vendor engaged in community-led open source development and pretty easily plot them on this chart.

As Ian notes in the comments below, the chart can also be used to track the engagement in open source communities of enterprise users, as well as vendors.

Here’s an interesting experiment: where would you place Microsoft?

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#1 :: » 451 CAOS Theory » The five stages of community open source engagement on 12.04.08 at 2:15 pm

[…] from: 451 CAOS Theory » The five stages of community open source engagement Posted under Uncategorized, hardware by admin on Thursday 4 December 2008 at 10:37 […]

#2 Ian Skerrett on 12.04.08 at 4:37 pm


I think this is a very good characterisation of what we see as the open source maturity model. I’d add that we are also seeing this for enterprises, not just ISV’s, in their approach to open source. Most larger enterprises have moved beyond ‘denial’ and are heavy users. The challenge is to educate them on how to move along to ‘contributors’ and ‘champions’.

I’d also like to make a point that we based this graphic on an open source maturity model described in some research done by Carleton University and Nortel.


#3 Matthew Aslett on 12.05.08 at 4:25 am

Thanks for the comment Ian and the clarification on the source, I’ll add it to my post.

#4 Mike Milinkovich on 12.04.08 at 7:13 pm

I will bite on the MSFT question 🙂

Based on their contributions to places like Apache and Eclipse, they are in the “Contribute” stage.

But the thing to understand about this model (having used it for several years) is that in very large companies, the state is not uniform across the whole organization. So within MSFT I would expect to find groups that are still in “Denial” and everything in between.


#5 Matthew Aslett on 12.05.08 at 4:25 am

Good point Mike

#6 Mike Milinkovich on 12.04.08 at 7:19 pm

Sorry…I should also mention that this model is actually inspired by research work done by Professor Tony Bailetti of Carleton University and was funded by Nortel. For an original reference, please see

#7 Matthew Aslett on 12.05.08 at 4:26 am

Thyanks Mike, I’ll add it to my post

#8 Cal Evans on 12.08.08 at 8:16 am

Having just returned from 3 days in Redmond discussing PHP on Windows with Microsoft, I agree that Microsoft cannot be pinned to a single stage on this chart. However, realistically, even their forward thinking divisions are no farther along than contribute. I would spread them between denial and contribute with denial being the majority and contribute being the long tail.


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#12 Simon Phipps on 12.21.08 at 8:27 am

I’ve been using a model something like this for a while too. It is resonant witha much older piece of research on the psychology of human belief systems (which works beyond just the religious since capitalism is also a belief system) by James Fowler in his book Stages of Faith from 1981. From reading Fowler, I have come to the conclusion that we need to consider not just “maturity” but its “spread” and “reach” I just posted a load more on this on my blog.

#13 Matthew Aslett on 12.22.08 at 2:41 am

Good point Simon, thanks for the comment. While different parts of an organisation might be at different stages in the process, I do think it is possible to examine the company as a whole and identify a modal average position – but it is important to take into account the depth and breadth of open source adoption/contribution within a company. This is something that cannot be easily defined in a few sentences, but we have recently been able to do it (if I do say so myself) for a number of vendors including IBM, Oracle, and SAP, in reports that are available to our subscribers . We should be plenty more of these in 2009.

#14 Dave Walker on 12.21.08 at 2:23 pm

Given Microsoft’s generally-accepted historical approach of “Embrace, Extend, Destroy”, I’d put them on a notional Phase 6 of “Subvert” – after all, on examining the Office XML spec, it strikes me as the only “open standard” so far, which is clearly designed to not be interoperable with…

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