Eric Raymond's tips for effective open source advocacy

By Rick Moen, LinuxWorld.com |  Development

This is where dwell the Unix-loving engineering staff.



The traditional strategy fails because it hits the purposely granite-hard wall of middle management, and advocates of open source software will wait until Doomsday trying to work past them. And until 1998, that's exactly what they were doing.



Mozilla gave us an example to point to, but also material to learn from: in that case, enlightenment did not trickle up from below. One guy at the top (Jim Clark) encountered a persuasive essay, had a moment of enlightenment, and enforced his new vision on everyone beneath him.



Clark was convinced, not by moral suasion, but by CatB's pragmatic analysis showing why free software yielded shorter time to delivery, better code quality, and lower costs.


Ambassador to the suits



Eric could see that the Mozilla code release would be a crucial moment, which could yield any of several alternative outcomes:


  • Mozilla could succeed, demonstrating open source's benefits.

  • Mozilla could succeed, but in a way that made it appear to be a one-time, freak case.

  • Mozilla might be perceived as having failed, and then become the standard reason cited in business circles for not trying again.


He decided that he could help ensure the first outcome by working out a credible, coherent explanation of the open source model and its benefits that would be amenable to the right sort of audience. That target audience would be precisely the one ignored by prior advocates: Fortune 500 chief executive officers.



This is easier said than done. As Eric puts it, "Most of us don't play golf with Jack Welsh [longtime CEO of General Electric]. We need some other way to slip our LSD in their water supply."



Thus, Eric figured, our best bet is a media-centered campaign aimed at Fortune 500 CEOs. It might seem at first glance that entrepreneurs would be a better bet, but the Fortune 500 are the biggest, most influential market that can be reached by a single marketing campaign. He decided to concentrate exclusively on the following news outlets: the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Barron's, and the Economist.



This list pointedly excludes technical journals, since the people we need to reach don't read them, but leave that task to underlings. Eric cited what he called Rule Number One of Marketing: "Appeal to the prospect's interests and values, not to yours." If the smarter, more forward-looking CEOs were convinced to come aboard, the others would tend to follow.


The sales pitch



The term "open source," coined by Chris Peterson of the Foresight Institute at a strategy session Eric attended in February 1998 after the Netscape announcement, followed naturally from this logic.

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