Does Open Source Need Better Evangelists?

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 20, 2009

Do commercial open source companies need better evangelists? There are some good reasons to believe that they do. For example, Savio Rodrigues notes that in Fast Company's recent roundup of the "the world's most innovative companies," there isn't a single open source vendor listed. Sun Microsystems made the list last year, but this year only appeared in the ghettoized list of "33 companies from last year’s Fast Company 50 that didn’t make the list this time but deserve watching." I don't think the problem here is lack of innovation among notable open source candidates for a list like Fast Company's; instead, the problem is poor evangelism.

The term "evangelist" was widely used by notable Microsoft and Apple employees for many years as the companies grew. I remember thinking how that word is closely associated with people who seek wide audiences for religious messages, including some who are fanatics. That's exactly why the moniker got attached to people like Guy Kawasaki at Apple, though. The title was meant to conjure up fervor, faith in platform, the need to take the message to the masses. And speaking of Apple, who is the open source equivalent of Steve Jobs?

In a post from last year titled "Four Things Linux Needs," Joe Brockmeier argued that one of the four things needed is "unified marketing." He wrote:

"If you took the marketing budgets of all the Linux vendors combined, and then doubled that figure, and then added a zero, you might start approaching what Microsoft spends on marketing Windows. Maybe. The ad councils for various industries have the right idea -- it's a good idea to pool your money to grow the market when you're jointly competing with another industry."

That's the kind of unified marketing effort that smart evangelists could easily get going for not just Linux, but open source at large. Part of the reason why we see very little of this is that the open source community is too clubbish for its own good. I think the Linux Foundation is making some good unification inroads, but more effort is needed for strong, unified open source evangelism, and money is too.

Dana Blankenhorn has a good piece up today on how much hype--rather than good information--comes out of the open source community. He points to dubious claims from Sun's Jonathan Schwartz about how JavaFX is “the fastest growing RIA [Rich Internet Application] platform on the market.”

Why isn't Schwartz instead touting the fantastic success that MySQL has been having recently? That's part of good evangelism--delivering solid information with force and feeling.

Here is a recent think-tank piece from researchers at U.C. Berkeley, on cloud computing. It contains 25 pages of fine print on the state and future of cloud computing, and mentions open source only once, in passing. That's true, even though open source efforts are now a vital part of the cloud computing scene.

I find it ludicrous that Hulu, which delivers video content online (who'dathunk?), is number three on Fast Company's list of innovators, but not one open source company appears. The problem isn't lack of innovation, but rather lack of good messaging and a dearth of unified open source evangelism.