Eric Raymond's tips for effective open source advocacy

By Rick Moen, |  Development

The Open Source Initiative was founded in February 1998 towards that end, with Eric and fellow OSI director Bruce Perens advocating the new approach among traditional free-software advocates.

To their utter astonishment, they observed 85 percent of the community switching the wording on its Web sites within six weeks, suggesting pent-up demand in the community for a more effective, less confrontational approach. Some organs of the press that used to carry what Eric termed "condescending, snarky pieces about free software" fell over themselves to speak glowingly of open source.

Talking to the press

Eric's strategy for getting his views across in the press ("press manipulation," he freely admits) relies on knowing that most people are asleep most of the time. It's impossible to keep your audience awake. Therefore, you keep a good stock of attention-getting sound bites in reserve, and zap the reporter with them at well-spaced intervals. The theory, which Eric claims works quite reliably, is that the reporter will remember the sound bites, reproducing them as the backbone of his coverage, and discard the parts he half-dozed through. (This reporter found the suggestion about as annoying as the wrist cramp from his nine pages of lecture notes, but concedes the point may be more correct than not. Eric stoked some of our egos a bit by saying that technology reporters tended to be way ahead of that curve on account of the same hackish traits that got them into that field in the first place. Sorry, no kind words for technology readers.)

The other side of the coin

One member of the audience asked how corporations should approach relations with the open source community. It's the same problem as before, just from the other side: "Appeal to the prospect's interests and values, not to yours." Once more, if anyone is qualified to address this point, it's Eric.

  • Never lie to geeks. They take it seriously. Most general members of the public expect casual prevarication and evasion, but technical activists notice it and are offended.

  • Respect community customs. In particular, respect the community's software licenses. Don't write your own and expect to be greeted with open arms.

  • Value your own internal experts. The community doesn't like dealing with faceless organizations, and prefers one-on-one "horizontal" dealings with individuals.
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