How to help your open source project be a success

Five common pitfalls to avoid in open source

Core purpose people on jungle gym.
Image by :

Subscribe now

Get the highlights in your inbox every week.

Open source software, hardware, and methods are gaining popularity and access to them couldn't be more prolific. If you're thinking about starting a new open source project, there are five common pitfalls you should be aware of before you begin.

Don't despair if you've already started your project and are just now reading this! These pointers can be helpful at any stage if things are still running smoothly.

Fail faster and succeed with open source.

5 common pitfalls of a new open source project

You are the support

If you plan to release an open source product be mindful of what this means for your support. Don’t expect the community to come to your rescue in providing support for your product. Especially in the beginning. Everyone wants to believe they have the next big thing which will be instantly used by millions of people. Don’t expect floods of traffic and community volunteers beating a path to your support forums to help answer questions. You will be the one responsible. Your team will be in charge of handling questions, encouraging usage, and ensuring that the early adopters are able to implement your product with ease. You are the support—be ready for it.

The identity of innovation

This one is an easy one to let slip by. Releasing an open source product means it’s open for anyone to pull down, fork, make changes, and then submit those changes back to you—the original creator. This also means you can have new features created by the community and thus improve the software product. But you should never, never rely on the community to innovate for you. You need to be constantly innovating in your product. Setting a course for new features, planning and improving the product yourself. You should lead the way in innovation.

What culture?

Open source culture is very different from most corporate business cultures. The culture of the team around an open source project is incredibly important to the success of the project. Volunteers and contributors are giving their time and their talent with no direct monetary return. If money is not a driving factor you should consider what motivates them. Is it the feeling of community? Of contributing to something great? Or, of helping out a friend? There are many reasons someone may dedicate thier time and talent to an open source project, but whatever they are, they weave together to form the culture of the project. An environment which nurtures, supports, and recognizes the work of its volunteers will succeed. An open source product missing a culture will fail in time. Establish a culture.

Mission critical

Your open source product and your organization must have a mission. Why do what you do? What is the goal or the vision that has been chosen. If you don’t correctly define your mission, then the community will not understand your reasons for the decisions you make. You should be open and transparent with your mission and what you hope to accomplish with your open source project. Be prepared for disagreements and differences of opinions. Be ready to clarify your mission and why you believe what you believe. If you focus on a mission that sounds good but isn't accurate, you’ll attract the wrong community and ultimately fail. State your mission clearly and stick to it.

Failing faster

Who’s not afraid of failure? We all are. It’s inherent in human nature (or at least in the adults). But every successful open source project will struggle and fail at some point. There will be obstacles to overcome and differences to learn from. If you are too worried your project is going to fail you, will be afraid to experiment, afraid to innovate, and you will lose out on the potential success which may have resulted. The fear of failure can take many forms, from indecision when it’s critical a decision be made, or making the wrong decision in an effort to keep vocal individuals happy, or even making the right decision but moving too slowly because you worry how it will be handled or perceived by others. All of these are ways in which you demonstrate a fear of failure. As a result,your open source community will sense this hesitancy, the lack of commitment, and will become fearful as well. Don’t be afraid of failure.

How to find success

Not being aware or ignoring these five simple concepts when starting and pursuing your open source project could lead to a major misfire. Sure there are other pitfalls to avoid, and sure you could follow this advice and still fail in open source. But, remember open source in and of itself is not a solution; it is a method, a process, a community, and a product license. Don’t think simply naming something open source will guarantee your success. Be thoughtful as you plan your project, be careful to avoid some of the common pitfalls listed above, and be confident. You can succeed in open source.



About the author

David Hurley - David is the founder of Mautic, an open source marketing automation platform, and an open source evangelist. He has also worked as the community manager for Joomla and a member of the Production Leadership Team. David writes frequently about open source and spends his time helping businesses find success with open source solutions.