Submitted by Duion on
Have you ever wondered why most open source communities or projects never grow? Well most people of course have not, but I have, which probably already leads us to the main reason: Nobody can see that this problem even exists.
I tried to make some people aware of problems like that in the past, but the main defense was always something like "Well we are open source and not commercial, so we do not have to compete and do marketing or anything, we just do what we do and that's it". However is this really the case? To some degree yes it may be true, you do not have to compete, because failure will not instantly lead to failure of your business, since it does not rely on making money or having success, but in the long run you will fail anyway, the consequences are just not that instant.
In the real business world, people have to do real things, that have real effects, that have real customers, that use your products for real and pay money for it for real, so you can have success for real and that makes you grow for real.
In open source communities or projects you hardly need to do anything for real, you just need people that pretend to be a business and as long as those people exists the project or community exists, even when nothing ever gets done.
So a real world business that does not make profit will fail fast, since there is instant feedback of how successful what you do turns out to be, but in the hobbyist sector, all you need is people engaging in it and it will "survive". Real world businesses need to grow or they will die and same goes for hobby world businesses, even if it is not about money, since if you do not grow your community, it will shrink at some point, since if people do not come to you, all that can happen is that people leave, so sooner or later it will be dead.
Through my observation how most open source communities or projects work is that they are a ripoff of some commercial real world project, so the primary target group for recruiting customers to an open source product is the target group that was already created by a real world commercial company and all the open source ripoff can achieve is to lure existing users of a product away to use the open source version of it, with arguments like that it is free and open source and more moral and stuff. This of course works to some degree in many cases, but in the long run you will face a big problem, the problem that if this is your only method, there is not much potential for growth, since you do not access new markets, you will always remain a free rider behind some serious business.
So the first problem is, that people cannot see that a problem exists, because they think an open source project does not obey the laws of real world businesses, while in fact it does, as I experienced it myself and people also told me that. I even read legal texts to understand what laws I have to obey and I even read laws that said, if you do something that is similar to something commercial or is normally done commercial, the same laws apply to you. So even in law there is often no difference between a commercial company and a non-commercial one, since almost everything is still the same, only the factor how profit is made is different and often "non-profit" is a code-word for "more-profit" anyway.
The second problem probably is that even if the problem becomes clear, people absolutely refuse to do anything, in some communities I was even banned for the sole reason I was trying to tell people about their problem that they have no growth and will die out sooner or later, if they continue to do nothing. Just mentioning the fact that a problem existed, made some people so angry that they wanted to get rid of me. Imagine in a real world company the boss telling the marketing guy "You work here now for 5 years and never made any new customers, don't you think you should rethink whatever you are doing in your work-time and try something else?" and the useless employee just says "Oh you are so negative, stop insulting me, I'm working very hard and in a few years we will see results, I promise and the most important thing is that we are all nice to each other" Such a scenario hardly ever players out in a real world business, but is very common in the open source or "alternative" communities or businesses.
There is so much insanity going on that hardly anyone ever gets to solve the real problems. Which leads to another big problem, which is that there is not much structure in most open source projects, since there is no hierarchy or any kind of organized effort. So if nobody exists that could do anything, nobody will do anything. One big problem of more freedom is, people are not forced to make real progress, so many people just end up doing whatever they want, regardless if that action is useful or not.
To me it feels like almost every problem here is based on the problem that people refuse to see the problem. Maybe the problem is so big, that they cannot comprehend it and therefore always use psychological defense mechanism, so they do not have to deal with it. One case of such a problem is probably that many people engaging in open source projects are losers in the way, that they dropped out of the real world business, since why would anyone care to work for no money, when he could make lots of money for the same work. The people that do that are either losers, insane or very moral people. The primary group that should contribute to open source projects should be the moral people, since the others cannot really contribute anything meaningful, but I assume the moral idealistic people are the minority here.
So what can a loser do to have success? He can try to be a free rider behind someone else that is successful and copy everything he does. In the short run this can turn out extremely efficient, since you can profit a lot with very little effort, but in the long run you cannot win, since all you can ever achieve is a small part of where you are stealing from and even if you manage to parasite so much, that your host dies, you still cannot grow larger than him, since your source for growth is totally gone by then. Maybe some cases exists where this worked and the losers just found another one where they can steal from, but in our case this probably does not exist, since in open source projects there is no motivation to make money and most open source projects never get beyond recruiting a small part of the customer base from the company they are leeching from. A good example for that is probably many open source games, that are just a copy of an often very old commercial game and almost all the user base they have are people who played the original game and are very nostalgic about it. However since the original game is abandoned by the company who made it, it cannot grow new customers, so it will die out almost for sure if the game does not manage to market their game to new customers, which is almost impossible, since the new generation of gamers want the new generation of games. Open source games are in many cases bad copies of bad very outdated games, so they are worse on multiple levels, you will not gain new regular customers with such a product with the exception of the very small group of moral people maybe.
As a short resume, most of the reasons are simply, because people deny that the problem exists and hardly anyone ever makes it above that stage, where you actually try to do things and as long as people are in denial it is kind of pointless to discuss anything real with them. Almost everyone I ever met in those communities is in such a stage of denial.
Yes of course there are open source projects or communities that seem to grow very well, but those are pseudo open source projects, as they are subsidized by a big company. What I'm talking about is that most open source projects never grow organically, but in most cases even the commercially subsidized communities never grow, since as soon as the community is in charge, it will most likely die out due to the massive amount of incompetence I already talked about in detail in this article.
In the end I want to mention a real reason why open source projects or communities never grow, which is also very logical and this is the lack of money. Most markets are already so saturated or monopolized, that in order to entice customers away you have to spend millions, sometimes even hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in order to get a chance in that market and even then the chances are high you will just fail with that as well and of course how are private people supposed to raise that much capital? But as I already explained in detail, most people will never get to the stage to realize such real reasons as they prefer to stick to their denial.
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