Links for February 5 2012

Technology Consultant - Eric D. Brown | Image for link posts

Embrace your community

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post titled Open Source, The Enterprise and The Community where I wrote about embracing the community that exists within your organization and in the open source community.

In that post, I mentioned the Boy Scouts of America and how their magazine group uses WordPress.com’s VIP hosting platform for Boys’ Life magazine’s Boyslife.org website.  Wordpress is open source…but as far as I’m aware, this is the only example of open source platforms being used at the National office of the BSA.

This story isn’t about boyslife.org though or just about the BSA…its about how important it is to embrace whatever community you have.

Boy Scouts & Open Source

Now…before I continue, you should realize I worked at the BSA national office as an employee for ~ 1 year and as a consultant for ~1.5 years. I know the organization very well.

The Boy Scouts of America has over 1 million volunteers. These volunteers come from all walks of life with many of them being new volunteers with young kids in the programs.  Out of 1 million volunteers, I’d estimate that the BSA could reach out and find 1,000 people who have  a strong computer background. Out of those 1,000 people, I’d be willing to bet that 100 of them would be willing to give a portion of their time to various IT related activities (software development, etc).

So….here’s an organization that has a dedicated volunteer community large enough to include a few people (maybe even a few hundred people) willing (and eager) to help develop new and interesting software platforms for the organization.  Is the BSA reaching out to embrace this community?  They are reaching out, but not truly embracing them.

Failing to embrace the community

Back in 2008 there was an open source initiative announced within the BSA.  On the surface, it looked good…even Eric S. Raymond (former president of the Open Source Initiative and former Scout) was excited about the announcement.

Like I said, on the surface it looked good. Here we had the BSA reaching out and embracing their large volunteer base and providing yet another way for those volunteers to help the organization out.

The CIO of the BSA hired a consultant to come in and build an open source strategy and program.

What did this program consist of?   A website, a forum and an open source ‘strategy’ document was created and published on a website.    The act of publishing that document and website was considered the ‘last step’ of the open source program and the consultant went on his way.

The website and forum actually got some decent traffic…within days of the announcement there were 10 to 15 people on there announcing their interest in helping the BSA.   From what I saw, these volunteers were extremely interested in helping, extremely comptetant in their fields and full of ideas of how to bring open source into the BSA.

But….those people were ignored. After 6 months, the forum was closed down. There were zero projects undertaken.  There was zero communication from the BSA IT group to these volunteers.  There was no embracing of this community.

It was sad really.  Watching these people comment over and over on the forum about how they were wanting to help.  Some even started up projects independently of the BSA National IT group but as farm as I know, those projects never went anywhere. The Boy Scouts of America’s IT group had no idea how to reach out and embrace these volunteers.

The open source initiative was an excellent idea, especially for an organization with over a million volunteers ready and willing to help.  The only issue – the BSA didn’t really know how to embrace their community, at least on the technology side.

The Boy Scouts of America hasn’t quite figured out how to embrace their technologically advanced volunteers…and I don’t know that they ever will be willing to reach out for help within the IT space.  There are a ton of security issues to worry about at the BSA due to the large amont of data on children…but there are many options for an organization like the BSA and even more for other organizations.

What could you do with One Million Volunteers?

Just imagine what you could do with a million volunteers.  Imagine having a million people beating down your door to help in any way they can.

That’s what the BSA has…and they’ve done a good job of utilizing those volunteers…but have they embraced them?   On the technology side of the house, they have not.

Here we have an organization who has an IT group that is understaffed and overworked and has a hard time getting anything done quickly. Now…add to that a large group of volunteers willing to help in any way they can and you’ve got a recipe for success….but those volunteers have to be embraced.  Right now..they are kept are arms length.

Imagine if you had had a group of people willing to help your organization out.  Maybe not 1 million people…but what if you had just 10 or 15 people willing to help you with your project and/or initiative? You can have that if you build and embrace your community.

This is the power of something like open source.  You’ve got people wanting to help. You’ve got people willing to help.

Whether you’re the Boy Scouts of America or a small business with 1 employee, you’ve got a ton of ‘volunteers’ out there waiting to help you out in the open source world. You just have to be willing to reach out and ask for help…and understand how to embrace those folks that are willing to help.

Of course, there’s times when you can’t (or won’t) opt for open source platforms….but odds are that there is a community out there willing to offer assistance.  Take a commercial content management product like  Sitecore for example. Sitecore has a fairly large community of developers on the Sitecore Developer Network who offer advice and propose solutions to problems.  Take advantage of communities like and embrace them when you can.

Whatever your community looks like, embrace them.  If you don’t have a community, build one.  You may be surprised to find what your business / organization can do when you open your arms and embrace those around you.

Open Source, The Enterprise and The Community

Open Source, The Enterprise and the communityRackspace has just announced their open source cloud platform, OpenStack in collaboration with NASA.

While the open source world has been a viable area for quite some time, there seems to be a lot of talk these days of open-sourcing many things. Google has opened up Android, the Department of Homeland Security has just announced an open source intrusion detection engine, and more organizations are embracing open source platforms while also complaining about open source software overload.

Welcome to the open source world…whether you want to be a part of it or not….open source is here to stay.

Open Source

Take a second to jump over and read the definition of Open Source as defined by the Open Source Initiative.     Lots of interesting stuff there: Access to source code. Redistribution rights. Technology-neutrality.  Integrity of original code.  Good stuff….if you can understand how to take advantage of it within the enterprise.

Open source has its roots in the ‘free software’ movement but the open source world of today is a far cry from that of the free software movement in the past.  No longer is the main argument for free software….its moved into a more pragmatic argument of making software development a more open environment.

The open source world is an amazing one…and its an environment that many CIO’s and IT departments have tried to stay away from. I think its time to change that.

Open Source & The Enterprise

In the past, many people have argued against Open Source in the enterprise.  Most of the arguments against the open source movement have been based around security concerns, support concerns and/or intellectual property issues.

While some of these concerns are valid, I think many organizations, CIO’s and IT departments have a pre-defined prejudice against the open source world. They see this world as nothing but a bunch of hackers giving things away for free.

Far from the truth….but even if it were the truth…what’s wrong with it?  If I were working within an organization that had resource constraints (budget, people, etc), I’d have to look for ways to be more effective with the resources I do have.

Take a second to step back and rethink the open source world. Think about the people. Think about the willingness to give. Think about the community that exists out there.  Think about the hundreds of people that are willing to give their time to develop a piece of functionality that could be beneficial to you.

Look at WordPress (also WordPress.com) as an example.  Its one of the largest blogging / content platforms in the world with over 25 million people using the software to power their blogs. Its also an open source project with hundreds of volunteers contributing to the code base to extend features and functionality. The WordPress platform is used by individuals (it powers this blog) and Fortune 500 companies to run their blogs and content platforms….its even used by the Boy Scouts of America‘s  to run the website for Boys’ Life magazine.

If you were looking for a content management platform and couldn’t spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars buying and implementing one, WordPress could be an ideal choice. So could other platforms like Drupal or Joomla among many others.

With these open source platforms, you’ve got thousands of people willing to give their time and effort to build more functionality (in the form of plugins and themes), most of which wouldn’t cost you a dime.  If you did want to add some specialized functionality to your platform, there are thousands (or more) WordPress developers out there who can do some amazing things for very little money (think thousands of dollars versus hundreds of thousands for closed-source platforms).

But…what if you’ve already got money sunk into another system?  What if you already have a fully built IT architecture based on Microsoft platforms….open source isn’t an option for you….or is it?

Open source is always an option….you’ve just got to change how you think about the open source approach.

Open Source, The Enterprise and The Community

Let’s say you are a .NET shop.  Your entire IT architecture is built with Microsoft systems.  You run windows as your web server, SQL Server for your database platforms, Sharepoint for collaboration and content management and you have zero interest in replacing any of these platforms.

When I talk about open source….you probably shrug your shoulders and say “not for us…we’re a .NET shop”.  Well…you’d be wrong. Look at Umbraco for example….its a .NET open source CMS platform.  Brilliant!

Open source isn’t implementing the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) stack…its an approach to your business.

You can still be a .NET shop and embrace the open source community.

So…now you argue that open source isn’t secure.   Bollocks I say! (I’ve been waiting 4 years to use that on my blog).

Open source can be as secure as you want it to be.   You define the entry- and exit-paths for open source software and data flow.  Perhaps you setup an API that allows non-sensitive data to flow in or out.  Perhaps you setup certain non-critical functions to allow open source software to be implemented.

There are lots of ways to argue against the “open source security” argument.  The biggest argument is that security is as security does….you make your systems secure today with closed-source software…the same can be done with open source software too.

Open source platforms & software can bring a lot of value to an organization…you’ve just go to be willing to open your mind to open source. An open source approach & mindset can help in many ways.  It can save you money…but it can also allow you to reach out to the community (either your internal community or an external community) for help.

The open source community could be a lifeline for non-profits and community groups.  Imagine what an organization like the Red Cross, the Boy Scouts of America or The United Way could do if they embraced the open source movement and then embraced their community for help?

What about a for-profit company?  Can you still ’embrace your community”?  Maybe…maybe not.  You’ll have to figure out if you have a community first…but that shouldn’t stop you from embracing the open source community as a whole.

There are a lot of smart folks out there just itching to solve a new challenge…reach out and find them…you’d be surprised just how much you can do when you open not only your IT platforms but also your mind.

The open source approach is much more than a philosophical approach to software / hardware /IT….its an approach that allows you to embrace your community to help you move forward.  You’ve already started embracing the community on the marketing side of the house to help ‘spread the word’….why not use that new-found good will and ask for help on the technical side of the house?

Join me next week for more on how non-profits can embrace their community (more specifically how one non-profit has not embraced theirs).

Links for March 7 2010

Pick one and own it by Jason Cohen on A Smart Bear

The Strategy Trap: Why focusing too much on strategy could be killing your ability to execute by Olivier Blanchard on The BrandBuilder Blog

HR Hint of the Day: Let Them Run Through the Sprinklers by Frank Roche on KnowHR Blog {If you click on no other link today, click on this one!}

The twin evils of IT gridlock and denials by Michael Krigsman on Enterprise Irregulars

There’s no room for The Idea Guy by David on Signal vs. Noise

Business models for linked data and web 3.0 by Scott Brinker on Chief Marketing Technologist

Are innovation strategies back on CIO agendas? by Linda Tucci on TotalCIO

Thinking About Networks and Social Media and Online Collaborations by Beth Kanter on Beth’s Blog: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media

Like Siblings, Teams Get Locked Into Behavior Patterns by Andrew O’Connell on HarvardBusiness.org

Community Management: The Strategic New IT-Enabled Business Capability by Dion Hinchcliffe on Enterprise Irregulars

Who Are Your Positive Deviants? by Hutch Carpenter on CloudAve

Losing Andrew Carnegie by Seth Godin on Seth’s Blog

The One Thing About Building A Community By Mitch Joel on Six Pixels of Separation

Book Review: Trust Agents

Trust AgentsI was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy of Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith but I wasn’t lucky enough to be able to get through it until now.

Have you ever wondered how Chris Brogan became Chris Brogan (outside of Chris’ parents conceiving him and birthing him)?  This book will give you the system that Chris has used (and perhaps Julien as well…I’m not that familiar with Julien’s background and experiences) to build up his community.

In addition to outlining the tools & a systems, this book does a wonderful job of explaining why trust is so important today (hint…it’s because we are all human).  The world today is full of marketers, pitchmen (and women), scammers and con artists and the ability of these folks to reach new people is magnified with the use of the Internet.   Building trust is key for any person or organization to be able to break through the noise of spam and scams to build up their community.

Any company in the world can benefit greatly from the information presented in this book. Companies today must provide much more intimate messages to their communities….the blast messaging of the past no longer works.   Chris & Julien sum this up beautifully with a passage on page 259:

Brands will need to earn a place in our heads with a sense of personal intimacy as well as the consistent messaging they’ve been using to get us to trust them.

Good stuff. This one sentence sums up the entire reason for organizations and people to read this book and practice the art & science of the Trust Agent.

At the end of the day, this book isn’t about the tools and systems that you can use…it’s a treatise on being human.  Treat people well, help them without expecting something in return and give back to the community at large.  Do this and you’ll become a Trust Agent.

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