Forum OpenACS Q&A: Sustainable growth of OpenACS and dotLRN

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From my limited observations, two things should happen for OpenACS and dotLRN [toolkits] to grow and stay relevant in comparison with other open source initiatives:
1)    There should be funding coming from the toolkits adopters for IT developers to cover their time spent on development of the code (as opposed to funding for time spent on customization, bugs fixing and basic maintenance);
2)    Organizations using toolkits should have needs for enhancements of the existing modules, wide users’ basis that will use new modules developed and which will generate new demands on the systems based on toolkits.
It means that
1)    More large organizations should be using systems based on toolkits;
2)    More sophisticated systems should be run with toolkits to give incentives for developments of new features and modules;
3)    There should be tools to help organizations to increase usage of systems based on toolkits (learning materials, hints and tips, sharing of experience etc). Increased user base and increased usage of modules will mean more innovation and demands for new modules coming from users and then from there to developers;
4)    Sustainable business models for support of systems based on toolkits should be developed, communicated and freely available to encourage sustained growth of systems based on toolkits, it should help lure new large accounts towards toolkits and help organizations benefit from each other experiences;
5)    Organizations using toolkits should benefit from each other using toolkits, some sort of “OpenACS-dotLRN community for implementers” should be in place to provide additional benefits for organizations opting to use toolkits in their systems [non-technical benefits];
6)    Mechanism for sharing information regarding large investments into development of new code should be enhanced to give more opportunities for implementing organizations to benefit from open source community and to ensure effective use of investment (more new development from each euro invested);

Marketing of toolkits to large organizations:

1)    There is a need to define in clear terms how is it different from other similar F/OSS initiatives and proprietary solutions at this moment and in the future. Decision-makers like choice;
2)    What are the competitive advantages of using OpenACS for large organizations? What are the current advantages and advantages under discussion (future advantages)? [I remember hearing from someone that OpenACS has bigger developers' community than other systems of the same magnitude]
3)    Publicity efforts with vision and coordination. What is the positioning of toolkits? OpenACS enables to build CMS, E-learning tools (dotLRN) etc on top of it? Is it one system, separate? Is it toolkit, code, platform, etc?
4)    For decision-makers in external organizations community is like company with staff, mission statements, turnover, etc. What is mission of OpenACS company, how many permanent staff do we have [read – salaried full-time developers], what is the turnover of our “company”?
5)    How toolkits could help when an organization is using solution of a vendor? Case studies of migration. Can it be integrated with other solutions, both F/OSS and proprietary?

Would be interesting to here your thoughts on this.

Posted by Frank Bergmann on
Hi Volodja,

> Would be interesting to here your thoughts on this

very, very interesting. My thoughts are going into the same direction, even though I'm coming from selling a particular application that resides on top of the toolkit.

In the last 8 weeks I've been talking to some 10 potential customers, amongst them a HP division here in Barcelona. My summary:
- The small (unsophisticated ones) are not interested in the toolkit as long as the software works for them and
- HP and another larger company were much more interested in the details of the toolkit, got repelled by the fact that TCL isn't PHP, but cought some confidence when they heard "Oracle" and my explanations that (Open)ACS is just a "thin layer on top of Oracle...".

HP was particularly impressed by hearing about Siemens Sharenet (there are some cool reports in Google).

> There should be funding coming from the toolkits
> adopters for IT developers

That doesn't seem to be easey... There has been some discussion about a "Partner License" that I've (partially) proposed in several discussions. This license aims to formalize exactly that: A software license that requires implementer to sign a "certified partner" contract that requires them to contribute a "fair" amount to the community (for example 20% of project revenues including PLed code), and then distribute the 20% according to the packages implemented and their developers. However, the distribution rules are not easy to define...

(My) conclusions for OpenACS:
- Separate the devloper pages from some "customer" web pages
- Publish a list of reference projects and customers in a very prominent place in the customer pages
- Publish the list of consulting companies providing services around the toolkit
- Provide a "sales guide" to explain advantages/disadvanates of OpenACS in comparison with XXX (PHP toolkitz)

I'm trying to follow these ideas with and which are suposed to be the customer and developer sites for Project/Open (the site is incomplete. We're working on a complete overhaul). Future will tell whether it works out...


Posted by Torben Brosten on
random thoughts while on information overload...

"what to do while waiting on others.. the life of an openacs evangelist"

some basic proverbs

When companies buy something, they don't want to have the product given away to others who might compete against them.

Joint-ventures are difficult to create when prospect companies share the same markets.

Developers (software experts) that look for funding have similar economic circumstances to consultants (business experts). Both want to get significant compensation for the least risk by contributing to projects where others take the greatest risk.  Expert markets are very competitive. The struggle consists of endless sales maneuvers and loosing clients to others.. except for the few who have found special niches.

What to do?

Find the Openacs niches.

Find companies with similar openacs needs but that do not share markets.

Creat your own clients by becoming a significant stakeholder in projects that you know can use your resources and that will be able to compensate you as/when the project succeeds.

Posted by Andrew Piskorski on
"repelled by the fact that TCL isn't PHP", gosh, I'm sure glad my income doesn't depend on selling projects to "sophisticated" customers like that. (I'm afraid I wouldn't be very good at, and would hate it even if I was.)

Of course OpenACS is not "just a thin layer on top of Oracle", never was, and has probably become substantially less so since Philip first made that bogus claim way back when. On the other hand, emphasizing the importance and power of the data model perhaps a bit more difficult to do), seems very much appropriate to me. AFAIK the emphasis on and quality of the underlying data model is still the single biggest factor differentiating OpenACS from other toolkits.

Regardless, these sorts of hands-on "marketing from the trenches" anecdotes are interesting, thanks for posting, Frank.