Growing the community – the case for a jumpstart

There are several projects that can boast a clear track record of attracting, building and growing a community. LibreOffice is one of them, and so was his parent, . I’m not specifically speaking about the developers’ community, but rather about the worldwide community of localizers, QA testers, documentation writers and translators, local volunteers contributing their time to marketing and users support, designers… We had come up with a name back then : the Native-Lang projects. It simply meant the « native-language projects », communities working on the basis of their common language rather than on a country affiliation, which would have resulted often in politically complex and difficult situations.

As it turned out these native-language community were quite successful. Of course there were quite some differences among them. Some were very well grown and active communities mirroring the “central projects” in almost every aspect. At the other end of the spectrum there were communities that were little more than (useful, but small) localization teams. What was very successful about them was that it proved to me a framework that was flexible enough to accommodate almost every type of team or organizations, and that on top of this it worked as an effective tool to spread the usage of the software while granting each team’s “home rule”.

There were, however, some instances for which the native-language projects prove to be inefficient. These cases are worth pointing out as they do cover populations that tend to be rather computer literate. The case in point is the English speaking world. One could basically square it down to this: anywhere else, native-language projects worked (and often extremely well) but in English speaking areas. Certainly, the difference between these areas and the ones where native-languages project are striving is rather clear: English speaking volunteers do not need to replicate, translate nor adapt materials and software that are obviously already available. From a project management point of view, there’s less to do if you live in Oregon than if you live in Portugal. Perhaps all the tasks needed to provide both the software and the support in one specific language are enough to force existing volunteers to structure themselves. Perhaps cultural differences come into play. At any rate we cannot satisfy ourselves with the situation that came to be since the early days of the project and that seems to continue inside the LibreOffice project.

We thus need to grow the LibreOffice community in places such as North America, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. How could we do this? How do we start? One simple starting point is to not think in terms of structure: native-language projects seem to work elsewhere, but not for these places. This means that we need to “start at the beginning”, and that would entail to nurture local communities of developers, testers, local volunteers working on marketing, users support, etc.

A first step in the right  direction would be to organize a small scale event to meet the interested people; this event would be very much a gathering of local people interested in knowing more about the project and how they could help. A hacking session on one side a community workshop on the other; food, drinks…. human contact matters (probably even more so with goodies). There’s no need to make it too formal.

What we should expect from such a meeting is the starting point for people to take interest in what they could be achieving inside the LibreOffice project. It’s one thing to know that somewhere, on the wiki, there’s a list of things to do. It’s another thing to discuss about them face to face. It motivates people, and they feel that we (the LibreOffice folks) want them to be part of the community. Of course similar meetings may very well be repeated once or twice. In the end it comes down to resources from the Document Foundation and the local groups. But I’m confident we can get something going, possibly this year in North America. At least we’ll try, and if we fail, it’ll be next year.

See you on the next side  of the Atlantic!

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