The Open Source Public Relations Engine

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian friends, both at home and abroad. June was a very busy month for me, which is why there were so few postings and I wanted to jump on July with a really big bang, but I am having trouble finding a topic worth discussing. I could talk about my new netbook, an ASUS Eee PC that I picked up for a song, but it is still running Windows and while I have downloaded the Ubuntu Netbook Remix, I have not had time to unspool it and begin the install process. I have trawled my Twitter feeds looking for something exciting or provocative related to Open Source, but nothing, other than the release of Fedora 11 and Firefox 3.5 is jumping out at me and frankly neither is particularly news worthy, despite the large number of people that are supposedly downloading both code sets.

Has Open Source lost its mojo? Has it become so common place that there are no real innovations to talk about? Or is it simply the summer lull? Before you fire up the flame throwers, I will assure you that I do not think Open Source has lost a step. It is still exciting, vibrant and diverse. Just looking at some of the tips on the left shows me that there is always something to learn. The topics across the top are always changing to reflect everything and anything you can do with Open Source software.

Perhaps then, the biggest news is the news that is missing. Over the last couple of days, a big deal has been made about the absurd pricing structure of Windows 7. Where is the news that Dell is going to ship 50% of its machines with Linux installed? No, I did not see it either. Maybe it was HP? No, neither company is moving away from Windows, sadly. But that would certainly be news. The truth of the matter is that most open source projects do not have large marketing budgets. Most programs are released quietly and spread by word of mouth, and until they are reviewed by someone like the Linux Journal, they tend to toil in a certain amount of obscurity.

Trawl the PR News wire and you will see very few releases for this great new piece of Free and Open Source Software. But you will see notices for the newest hole in Windows or Adobe’s newest picture manipulator. Perhaps we need a better PR engine. Perhaps, as my friend Paul Frields suggested, we need a single location for all FOSS projects that would prevent duplicative effort. Not as in building a better mouse trap, but as in literally reinventing the wheel. There is so much talent out there, solving the same problems, that some legitimate projects are short shrifted. But how would we even go about letting everyone know about a single source for information when there are so many sources for information, and so few of them covered by the main stream press except when they are covering the bad news?

I do not have a solid answer for this. But I am willing to listen to suggestions. Maybe I need to establish the new innovations list myself? What do you think?


David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Finding FLOSS users and getting the word out (and Word out)

Ralph Pichie's picture

We really do need a coordinated promotional effort of some kind, as the current hit-and-miss approach leaves much lost in the gaps and depends too much on people who may know much about technology or their specialty, but are not necessarily PR savvy.

While The Powers That Be have a lock on big media and the mindset of many, if we can find the ones that are open to alternatives and get non-FUD information in front of them, that will make a difference over time.

I am now recruiting people to help with a pilot project that will be gathering employment-related information from Canadian private businesses, inviting hundreds to participate and, with backing, thousands. The main survey I am using asks questions about use of open source software, advertisement for related skills, acceptance of candidate resumes in Open Document and other formats, use of social networking sites for recruitment, teleworking trends, etc. To do that, especially with HR respondents, I'll be providing information links and suggesting consultation with their IT staff, which helps to build awareness of alternatives. I'm hoping to get support for a separate FLOSS-oriented survey of attitudes, usage, brand awareness, etc.

While this is largely me paying out of my own pocket to take control of my career development, I've put a great deal of sweat equity and some cash into this. Will my efforts fade into obscurity like so many others from the FOSS camp, or will the people with much deeper pockets than mine seize this opportunity to reach out to the Canadian business community and the millions of individuals that they employ?

Stay tuned.

Unified marketing of Open Source interests by multiple orgs

Kiat's picture

A few years ago when I worked at an Open Source company, this idea seemed a strong one: a coordinated marketing group actively representing the open source interests of organisations of all types could, by pooling some of their individual marketing resources, come up with better ideas, strategies and delivery to match and better those of proprietary companies. Joint or embedded marketing between two propietary-focused companies can work, e.g. "Intel inside" and " recommend Microsoft Windows". Although open and easy collaboration amongst communities is strong in Open Source software development, the inverse appears to be true in the marketing of Open Source products and services. And there are many marketing highlights (for example: Firefox adoption methods, Android apps) that give a glimpse of how amazing a properly funded team could market Open Source in general - perhaps also on the PR side to combat the washing of bad news such as stories of bugs, malware, viruses that have put "computers" at risk rather than the more accurate "only computers running Microsoft Windows". What would it take now to do? A leap of faith and trust that together the interested organisations could really do it.

It's probably the economy.

JustMe's picture

While a part of it may be attributable to the summer lull, I think it goes deeper than that. Several people have noticed and commented on's charts showing a considerable drop in activity across aggregated monitored projects. This could be due to transitioning between SCM repos (e.g., svn->git), but as drops started around the same time layoffs did, I'd guess the economy has more to do with the downward trend in activity.

Let's face it; a lot of developers have been laid off in recent months from companies active in OSS development. Question is, how many of those developers were tasked with OSS development and support?

I concur.

Micah's picture

It's a great idea, but how do you fund it? Monetization is the number one issue for free products. How do we pay the PR people? It's a great big, nasty world out there in the public - and it's hard to get by on a smile and a prayer. There has to be some leverage...get unemployed people engaged in it, get college kids engaged in it, don't just involve the super-enthused but leverage the average man. We need a volunteer system that acknowledges and rewards people who donate their time. I sometimes think about how powerful the listing "3 years with the Peace Corps" or "AmeriCorps" or "Justice Corps" volunteer look on a resume submitted to the very-monetized industries of Politics/Environment/Power and Legal/PR/Consulting, respectively. Maybe we need to expand an idea like it. It's a nascent program but may be what the movement needs to get more people involved.

Lots to pick from

Del's picture

There is an abundance still. On the top of my list is KDE4.3 which just came out in RC1. For the first time, I have everything I need in KDE4, it finally matured. With it there is all the fantastic KDE apps that are soon available on all platforms. Many of them worthy a close look. From the top of my head: kdenlive (finally a decent video editor on linux), digikam (it has everything for your photo album, and then some), amarok (makes me wonder what this spotify nonsense is about), kontact (configure to your hearts content), and the list goes on and on.

Want something very different? Start playing around with statistics, the last ten years with top500 reveals some very interesting trends. Particularly if you have followed how aggressively MS pursues that market.

Firefox3.5, finally the video tag. In these days of flash and sliverlight I have no words to express the importance of this. Cross my fingers for rapid adoption.

Software development. GNU/Linux is made by and for programmers. Lots of stuff that could need a sharp eye. Why is C99 still missing from GCC? How does GCC stack up against commercial alternatives these days (pretty good actually)? How about Emacs, why doesn't even professional developers know about the possibilities provided by CEDET?

Filesystems, lots of stuff going on there with btrfs set to conquer them all.

How about an in-depth look at OpenWrt, a close encounter with a world class embedded community.

Virtualization, lots going on there. Virtualbox giving 3D, KVM giving everything else. I am sure lots of readers would have fun trying it out.

Good luck!


Anonymous's picture

"I have trolled my Twitter feeds looking for something exciting or provocative"
TROLLED??? Do you mean trawled?

C'mon, talk about Android.

Anonymous's picture

C'mon, talk about Android. Android is like a new DE for Linux.

Or talk about Paper Cut project in Ubuntu.


David Lane's picture

Android, is getting a lot of press, even in the traditional media. This is not to say that it is over exposed but it is certainly not under the radar. Paper Cut though is one I am not familiar with, mainly because I don't keep up on Ubuntu news. So I will look into it.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack