I'm organizing a project in which we will create a website for a technology that may end up being open source. If it is, then we want to have a lively community.The website will include several resources, including short videos, CAD, user guides, wiring diagrams, etc.

I've never worked on an open source project before, so I'd be grateful for lots of advice and input. Specifically:

  1. Best practices for creating an online community?
  2. The plan is to have a wiki. I'm used to wikis, but any advice on setup/management for open source communities? (Unfortunately, it won't be Confluence.)
  3. Got any great websites you recommend to check out as models?

Thanks for your help!

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Hey, Bill! Sounds like an interesting project.

I'm no expert on open source projects, but I can give you some tips on building a community. Here are some strategies that we're finding effective for growing Technical Writing World:

  1. Seed the community with interesting discussions. Ask open-ended questions that potential members will find irresistable.
  2. Invite influential people into your community. Who are the big names in your target tribe? Get them involved.
  3. Use social media to spread the news. Ask bloggers in your niche if they will let you write a guest post about the community. Tweet top discussion headlines, as well as reports of membership growth.
  4. Provide clear guidelines to help new members get involved. Post a page that walks them through setting up a profile, joining in discussions, posting guidelines, etc.
  5. Set an example by being active in the community, or finding key members to keep things moving. New members will follow your lead.
  6. Give members a sense of ownership. Ask for their input on key decisions, and give recognition to members who make a significant contribution.

Also, you might want to check out Anne Gentle's book, "Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation." She has a lot of experience with open-source documentation projects, and the book has some great tips.

Good luck! Holler if I can help in any way.

Thanks very much, Craig! This is helpful. I'd forgotten about Anne's book - I'll have to check that out.

You may also want to check out Jono Bacon's book, "The Art of Community". Jono works for Ubuntu, and as a result is a very pro-open source individual. In fact, his book is open source and free!



Thanks! I'll check it out.

Consider modeling your site after Sourceforge, which is a site for organizing and contributing to open-source software projects. Another model may be Instructables, which has more of an emphasis on hardware.


Edit: Added mention of and link to Instructables.

Thanks, Ed. I'll check those out. I've been to Sourceforge before, but it's been a while.

1. Leverage one that already exists: github is a good example. 

2. Github offers free project hosting for open source projects, and includes source repos, issue tracker, wiki, and other interesting tools. 

3. Did I mention Github yet? ;-)   

I'm not affiliated with github, and it is one of several such sites that offer great services for free (or reasonably priced). github is in widespread use among Linux open source folks, but before we go too far down the path of recommendations, it is probably useful to know what sort of code you are working on in order to make a useful recommendation. If, for example, you are making a project for some Microsoft product, you may try codeplex, theMicrosoft open source hosting site. If your's is a Linux project, github may be the ticket, and again... there are many others. My best recommendation is to leverage the existing site that your intended audience already uses. Good tools and a fair price are reasonable qualities as well, but you probably want to be where your intended users already are. 


Thanks, Richard. It's actually a hardware thing - converting a vehicle for specific kinds of uses.

Bill, how is your project going?

Simon, it got put on hold indefinitely for reasons unrelated to my work. But I got some good practice in up till that point.

Actually, a group of Chinese tech communication professionals gathered in Shanghai,China not long ago for China's first tech comm gathering and after that the topic of how to continue to glue existing members and new ones were pondered. My opinion is setting a wiki for that. And I am still waiting for others to join the discussion. 

That's one option. I wonder if you might find more success by creating a forum like this one, though. Seems to me a wiki is great as a repository of knowledge that can be used by a community, but if you're looking for something a bit more interactive and social, I think a wiki would be a bit awkward. But I'm not an expert on wikis, so don't take my word for it.



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