As the “1% rule” states, the vast majority of users in a community just consume the content generated by others. This makes sense, because when you first discover a community, you investigate it before eventually feeling able to contribute to it. So here are a few things you can do:
- Just use it! The more people that use the software, the stronger its community. It may be hard to realize in the consumption model that we live in, but Open Source projects are not made by them for me, but instead by us for everyone. So just trying it out is already joining the community.
- Learn about it. There are people behind that project. Who are they? Why do they do it? How do they organize? Learning about the project will make you a closer part of it, and will probably help you get the most out of it. You will discover new uses that you had never thought of, and maybe a rich community who will be able to help you.
The contributor phase
It’s only when people start feeling at home in the community that they start getting involved in it. They start by improving the content and helping others in the community.
- Promote it and help others. Show other people what they can do, and help them. Improve the tutorial or make a blog post about it. Remember, the bigger the community, the stronger it is. So every time someone joins in, you’ll get a better product yourself.
- Give feedback and fix it. You think it could be improved? You have new ideas? You want someone to fix this bug that has been bothering you? Just say it! All feedback and comment can be valuable. And don’t forget you can even correct the spelling mistakes you may run into. It may look like a tiny contribution, but that’s what the community is made of. And it will help you get used to the process, and eventually maybe make a bigger contribution.
- Adapt it and translate it. Communities share their work around the world. But the context is not the same everywhere. Translating the product in your language or adapting it to your local reality is very important as it enables the community to grow in new places and environments. This diversity is what makes open source strong, and every local flavor is a major help to the community.
The creator phase
People who contribute regularly may eventually feel empowered enough to actually create content of their own that they’ll give to the community.
- Build a local team. You can buy the tools to produce furniture or cars for your neighborhood and actually make a living out of it. You can also create a local user group to help local people use the software. This group will become a hub for the community and the incarnation of the community on which people will rely.
- Create it. Of course the best way to contribute is to actually create content that will be added to the ones the community already uses. A feature or a plug-in, a brand new design of an object the community didn’t have before. Once you have the skills and understand how the community works, add your own signature!
It’s important to note here that the number of creators isn’t fixed to 1%. In fact studies have shown that this number tends to increase over time for lasting projects, and the same applies to contributors. If people feel empowered and included, they will naturally tend to participate more and more, and move towards the center of the community. But the community needs to be built correctly, and particularly, the values need to be clear and agreed among the members, the interest people have to contribute should be clear and shared, getting involved should be very easy, if not trivial, and, most important of all, people should be respected and participation valued. People need to feel respect and belonging to get involved. Otherwise they’ll just leave and the community will disappear.
Of course, you don’t necessarily have the skills or the time to create your own content. But that shouldn’t stop you from participating! This is why we’ve created Open Funding, the co-funding platform of Free Software and Open Source content. You can contribute to the new feature you need by funding the creator who will work on it. You’re part of the community, contribute and make the product your own!