Forum OpenACS Q&A: Re: Marketing and Advocacy

3: Re: Marketing and Advocacy (response to 1)
Posted by Stan Kaufman on
Advocacy and marketing strategies certainly are vital for the future of the toolkit and the community. I'm interested in hearing what people mean by these notions, though, as I've always been confused about what is being marketed and to whom, with OpenACS specifically and I guess with open source projects generally. Perhaps the answer is "all of the following", but even if so, they seem to require different approaches:

  • Marketing the platform to organizations not now using it for use by their developers/IT staff who aren't now part of the community. This seems to be the group for which the Apache support critical thread pertains. Since OpenACS is GPL'd, the only return to the community occurs if those new developers contribute new code back to the platform or if those organizations hire current OpenACS developers for gigs or for full-time. Well, there's the pride of creating a dominant platform, but that is intangible at best. But other than the "gig-getting" objective, what is being marketed here is really just convincing other people to use the same free software tools we use. This doesn't seem like a compelling marketing strategy to me (nothing really is being sold, and no one really is buying), but perhaps I'm missing something fundamental here.

  • Marketing custom consulting/hosting solutions to organizations that don't currently have a web infrastructure or else need one with the far greater capabilities that OpenACS makes possible over other toolkits. I presume that most people in the community who make money with OpenACS are in this category, and so a "guild presence" at end-user conferences (eg NGO meetings where non-techie purchasers who know their tech needs and are shopping for solutions) would make sense. This could even be formalized somehow so that when one developer team is too busy to take a gig, they refer to others. Maybe this sort of thing is already going on. The marketing story here would most compelling focus on success stories from existing clients -- what they needed, how quickly and beautifully OpenACS developers delivered, etc.

  • Marketing vertical solutions to specific industry segments that either currently don't have comparable solutions or else have inferior ones. This differs somewhat from the above approach in that instead of making custom one-off systems for client organizations, the objective here is to assemble teams with both domain expertise and OpenACS chops to create more or less turnkey solutions. I think .LRN is more like this than anything else. The marketing story here again is most compellingly the success stories from existing customers, but it suffers the risk of developing a product that -- without a specific client -- might miss the mark and also has to be funded some other way. However, the advantage of this approach is that all the technical details (AOLServer vs Apache, etc etc) can be blackboxed. Install the whole system on a Mac Mini or a OSX server rack depending on the scale of the client and let them turn it on. Or simply sell them monthly services.

    Personally, I find this latter strategy most interesting. What new product categories can be devised with OpenACS or else created better with it? For instance, there are a number of clinical trials infrastructure companies out there whose products/systems demand very high rates but which all have significant limitations. This is a significant opportunity that an OpenACS-based solution could target. An OpenACS-based electronic medical record is another idea; daunting in scope and problematic in business model (healthcare is broken in the US), but certainly an opportunity. And I'm certain that there are many other domains where vertical applications around which could be built a new company or a new marketing opportunity within an existing company.

  • Marketing to current OpenACS or ACS developers who are already working in organizations and whose work is underwritten by their current jobs -- but who aren't part of the current OpenACS community and aren't using current OpenACS code because their code base forked so long ago. These folks could contribute huge amounts back to the platform as well as benefit from the huge advances made since they "left" -- if compelling benefits could be articulated and practical technical approaches identified. I think that there are probably quite a few groups like this: UCLA (Buddy's work?), GetActive, others? Actually, what I do sort of fits here, as I've evolved the 3.2.5 toolkit so far sideways that I haven't yet made the effort to migrate to the 5.x bleeding edge.

Anyway, I'd like to hear what others are thinking here when they talk about marketing and when they project their own work with the platform over the next several years. The answers will help define a strategy, IMHO.