Online communities are growing in popularity – they offer a place for niche groups to exchange ideas away from the incessant social media clutter. Those looking to replace or build an online community must make a basic choice: will I choose proprietary (closed source) or open source software?
There is a clear winner.
Open source is code that’s openly available and encourages the collaborative effort of thousands of independent developers. And it’s been booming due to its remarkable characteristics. We ourselves, Open Social, have experienced accelerated growth for one simple reason: we have an open source codebase.
Forrester state, rather bluntly, in their 2016 report “Open Source Powers Enterprise Digital Transformation”:
Today, failure to fully consider open source options is unwise. Within a few short years, it will be unforgivably negligent.
Although online communities arguably ‘mirror’ offline communities in many ways, online communities must be built upon software (duh). The software you choose could eventually make or break your community. It’s been found that open source accelerates the growth of online communities for three simple reasons.
Scaling – and quickly.
Consumers are rushing around to purchase Alexa – the latest artificial intelligence tech, putting filter after filter over photos with Instagram, and diving into analytics using software such as Piwik. These consumers are, probably unknowingly, using products that have embraced the ‘borrow instead of build’ philosophy found in open source. This philosophy has lead to the booming growth of every one of these companies.
We love Nadia Eghbal’s example of how open source development lead to Instagram’s revenue increase of $143 million. Simply put, she explains that open source can save tons of developer hours, high costs, and headaches.
Open source allows you to scale quickly because it removes barriers to use and support. Companies that are starting out can download free code to build their own software. In fact, Open Social’s software has been downloaded thousands of times and is the backbone of many smaller online communities. Furthermore, the open source community provides access to a pool of resources from around the globe – ones that have been proven to result in stable technologies.
There are hundreds of fantastic open-source projects that have been built through the hard experience of creating and scaling companies; …that can save you time and let you focus on actually building out your product.
As they say, nowadays the tech innovators stand on the shoulders of open source giants.
Customization – like never before.
Open source software allows for customization through the removal of vendor lock-in and shared coding efforts. How many times have people wished and waited for features from the big tech guys that are actually easy to implement and use? Plenty. Open source, on the other hand, allows for flexibility.
But it’s not just about creating customized software, it’s also about having software that can change with you. If business needs change or you find other uses for your community, the flexibility of the open source architecture makes this change possible.
No Vendor Lock-in
Open source software has no vendor lock-in and is easier to customize than proprietary software. The software is free of dependency on related products and allows users to choose which solutions, features, and integrations work best for them.
Open source software, removed from vendors, is often more affordable since it escapes monopoly pricing. It also tends to remove the financial motivations that often lead software businesses to cut corners such as reduced support and commercial updates.
Open source code also leads to customization due to reduced R&D costs and insight from the unique open source community of developers. In fact, open source software is possibly one of the best examples of organic knowledge management on the web. The community’s peer review not only provides quality assurance and years of experience but also innovative ways of thinking that help you become flexible in your solutions.
Most companies, save for the smallest ones, have the resources to modify the open source software on their own. They can then make these software enhancements available to anyone. And if internal skills are not sufficient to adjust the software, support will be available from the open source community.
Sustainability – by giving back.
Open Social has benefited greatly from the Drupal community, a group of thousands of developers worldwide. It’s an extremely rewarding process of giving and taking. Having such a large group contribute to our project, submit bugs, and suggest new features makes our software sustainable – it breathes life into Open Social.
All code is not always sustainable. In fact, development projects usually last about five years or less. When code that hasn’t been contributed to a community gets passed on to new developers, a lot of time and resources go into ensuring that it is up to coding standards. In many cases, the code hasn’t had any recent updates – creating a nightmare of playing catch up and reverse engineering.
Open source code, however, is a known commodity; the community can use and support the software regularly. This promotes the sustainability of the software for the following reasons:
- Many eyes on the code and regular bug fixes lead to improvements and a stronger code base.
- Regular code reviews of your software ensure that your code meets even better standards.
- The experienced community shares suggestions best practices and alternative methods and uses.
The Drupal community has even incentivized this process. Your code gets reviewed and approved quicker when you review other projects. The developers involved with Open Social have already reviewed other projects – PHP Code In Views, Slick Entity Reference, and Get Tweets – in order to give back to the community. One of our developers, Jochem van Nieuwenhuijsen, rightfully said:
“…the Drupal community shows that open source software is about so much more than just writing code. Every day I am surprised at how others build upon Open Social – providing the technology with life of its own.”
Leveraging Open Source
Open source definitely has its limitations, especially in terms of making a profit. Businesses will often charge professional services or offer enterprise licenses – aka methods that might not take off very quickly.
Open Social took the best from open source and combined it with SaaS (Software as a Service). By opening our software, developers from the Drupal community have helped make Open Social’s core community software better – we reap the benefits of the continuous, rapid innovation that stems from the open source community. The suggested improvements are often adopted and built upon by our team, resulting in a strong community software – available as a SaaS product.
Although SaaS is less customizable than open source, we embrace the growing trend of customer agency and transparency. Open Social has a public roadmap, where customers can see which features have been suggested, planned, built, and released. They can also provide feedback, vote on features, and suggest new features. It’s our goal to collaborate with our customers to create the best community software.
It doesn’t stop there: if your community grows it can be moved out of SaaS and into our enterprise offering, allowing us to focus more on customizing modules, API integrations, and designs according to the needs of individual customers.
Grow Your Community
Our open source software will kickstart your growth and help you construct the perfect community for your users. The out of box solution gets you up and running in no time by:
- Helping you scale quickly through easier access to innovative software and support from a community of experienced developers.
- Giving you the freedom to customize and extend your software according to your growing needs.
- Creating sustainable code that’s regularly reviewed by the open source community.
According to Forrester’s most recent survey of software decision-makers, 41% identify increasing their use of open source as a high or critical priority. Open source is not the future anymore, it is very much the present. It has paved the way for user-obsessed communities.
Open Social has recognized the potential of open source software and we want to share this potential with you! Now is the time to become a community with Open Social.
This article was written with insight provided by Jochem van Nieuwenhuijsen, an Open Social developer.