Project Open Source was part of a larger campaign by our client at Microsoft to gather insights from the open source community on the future of technology and Interactive development. Rather than sponsor a series of conferences, we decided to embed ourselves into the community and find out first-hand what people were talking about. Over a period of two days, we rolled our cameras and let people talk. They had a lot to say. Microsoft was welcomed with open arms into what is usually considered hostile territory. Why? Because we were listening.
Part of our team flew into Seattle to save a little bit of money on airline tickets and drove down to Portland the day before the conference. This has nothing to do with the actual project other than to share that we visited some wonderful places along the way, such as Mt. St. Helens National Park and a variety of kitschy diners. The truth is that our tour through the park system was done almost by complete accident. I had a craving for vanilla Zingers and happened to pull off on an exit that had a big sign pointing to the park. We were in luck. But back to the case study …
SETTING UP FOR THE CONFERENCE:
Although, not necessary, we made a donation to the conference for $2,000, which was far more than we needed to, but it helped to make sure the food and beer were constantly flowing (and gave us unrestricted access to the venue to set up our cameras).
Rather than set up a Web site and email for the campaign, we decided to market our project in the spirit of the open source community. We printed up a series of 11×17 posters and hung them around the venue (including the restrooms). On each poster was a thought provoking statement, such as: What’s the Future of Open Source? Who controls your Database? Who Profits from your Open Source Work? The idea behind the posters were to start the conversation and get people thinking about the essence of our project. The only reference to our project was a logo in the lower corner of the poster with a Twitter handle. The conference was attended by just under 500 people. By the time we left Portland, we had nearly 250 new followers on our Twitter account, proving that people were at least curious to see what we were doing there with our cameras.
We set up our Tweetdeck and started listening to the conversations taking place at the conference, as well as broadcasting our messages and questions. We followed people that were in attendance and they followed us back. We sent out questions and people replied. We asked for people to interview and they lined up in droves. People were excited that we were there filming (having a big boom mic, crew badges and a clipboard made us look just official enough). It wasn’t long before we were running out of physical hard drive space to record our interviews. As each person sat in our chair and started talking with us, we continued to refine the questions. Some sessions lasted 5 minutes, while others went nearly an hour.
WHAT WE HEARD:
Our primary business focus of the interviews was to gather information about MySQL vs Microsoft’s SQL Server (and other similar databases). Microsoft was interested in learning why the Open Source community selected MySQL over other options or how they could convert these developers into commercially supported alternatives (sold by Microsoft). Just before the conference, Oracle purchased MySQL, raising a lot of questions from the members in attendance. In addition to our conversation about databases, we learned quite a bit more than we expected about the “community” in general and how companies and organizations can develop a social community to support their products.
HERE ARE A FEW HIGHLIGHTS:
- The community was skeptical of anything that Microsoft produced or marketed
- There is something inherent to Open Source developers that will prevent them from ever promoting or developing on a commercially supported platform such as SQL Server or .Net
- The sense of ownership is key to any engagement (with Open Source software or Microsoft)
- Cost is sometimes an underlying factor in their decision process when starting their project development, but not the primary
- There is a perception that using Microsoft products is “selling out” their community
Below is the first draft of our research video (we gathered nearly 16 hours of video footage over the 2 1/2 day conference. This video was circulated inside of Microsoft’s Open Source group and served as training for people not familiar with the open source community.
TRIP SIDE NOTES:
On the way back to Seattle to catch our flight home, we drove down the Oregon coastline and discovered that one of my favorite childhood movies was filmed in the location: Goonies. After a few minutes of Internet research, we discovered the original Goonies house, in addition to the town Jail and several of the filming locations. The last photo in the gallery is a shot of the Goonies house, which welcomes visitors to stop by and take a photo or two.