General, marketing 4 Comments

Via Simon Phipps, I discovered PlayTerm this morning. You can record and play back terminal sessions, which allow you to show commands and their expected output, played at typed speed. This may be the greatest invention since screencasts.

Humanitarian Software – Using technology to help humanity

community, freesoftware, marketing, work No Comments

Tomorrow, Friday September 23rd, the Humanitarian FOSS track at the Open World Forum will bring together leaders from some of the most important humanitarian software projects and case studies of the impact these projects are having on people’s lives around the world. I’m happy to have been allowed to chair the track, and I am humbled by the quality of the presenters and the impact that their work is having.

In addition to the Humanitarian track, we are also honoured to have Laura Walker Hudson from FrontlineSMS give a keynote presentation on the overarching theme of “Humanitarian FOSS – serving humanity” in the main auditorium at 17:15. Laura will give an overview of the myriad ways that free and open source software is saving and helping people’s lives.

The Humanitarian track will have two core themes:

  • Crisis Management– how Free and Open Source Software plays a role in extreme events
    • The Sahana project, born in Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean, helps NGOs and citizens caught in a crisis by crowd-sourcing missing persons reports, co-ordinate different NGOs working in the same place, and track incident reports and volunteer co-ordination.
    • Tashiro Shuichi from Japan will present the ways that Open Source software helped during the tsunami disaster in Japan.
    • Syrine Tlili from the Tunisian Ministry of Communication Technologies will tell us how Open Source was used by citizens during the Arab Spring revolutions
    • Sigmah is a project that enables project management for NGOs
  • Sustainable Development– once the crisis is over, what are the projects that help with systemic problems like education, health-care, sanitation, and documenting human rights violations?
    • SMS is the killer app for communication in the developing world. Most villages in Africa, Asia and South America have cellphone connectivity, but unreliable power grid, Internet and no phone lines. FrontlineSMS enables you to send and receive SMS messages from any computer, using a cheap phone or GSM modem. It is at the heart of every prominent humanitarian software project.
    • Sugar is an operating system which was designed from the ground up to meet the needs of educators in developing countries, as part of the OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) project to revolutionize the use of technology in education. Sean Daly from the Sugar project will show us a deployment of Sugar and OLPC in a secondary school in a small town in Madagascar.
    • Martus, a project created by Benetech, allows the secure recording and storage of testimony relating to human rights violations. Testimony collected with Martus has been used to successfully prosecute police officers for murder in Guatemala.
    • Mifos, which was developed by Grameen Bank, the pre-cursor of micro-financing, provides a micro-financing platform for financial institutions.
    • Akvo help connect doers and donors to transform communities in some of the poorest parts of the world, funding water, sanitation, and health-care projects around the world.
    • The Open Bank Project promotes financial transparency and provides tools to allow people to fight corruption in banking.

Coders for Social Good

There are dozens of amazing Free/Open Source Software projects working to improve the lives of people around the world. For example, Literacy Bridge provides talking books to communities in Africa, and OpenMRS enables the gathering of medical information from regional clinics to reduce child mortality by improving resource allocation.

Many Open Source developers are developing software in communities because they want to make the world a better place. Working on a humanitarian project provides a unique opportunity to combine the social good of Open Source community projects and the public good of helping people in need. Social Coding 4 Good is a new initiative from Benetech which puts willing volunteers in contact with humanitarian projects in need of resources.

The schedule for the track is available on the Open World Forum website. For any press or interview requests, please contact me by email or my cellphone +33 6 77 01 92 13.



gnome, marketing 7 Comments

Does everyone know about GNOME News? Since we moved to WordPress, we have a news channel, syndicated “below the fold” on the front page of, and updated regularly with news, announcements and articles from around the GNOME world.

In the past few weeks, we have published interviews with Desktop Summit keynotes Thomas Thwaites and Claire Rowland, some announcements related to the Desktop Summit and GNOME Asia Summit, and of course the great news that Karen Sandler recently became the GNOME Foundation’s new Executivee Director.

Since I only found out about it recently, I’m guessing that maybe others aren’t aware of it yet either. We’re always on the look-out for compelling GNOME related stories to keep it interesting too – if you have something you think we should share, contact

Something to add to your feed readers.


Media Training at the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit

freesoftware, marketing 2 Comments

One of the things which is often lamented in free software projects is our marketing and press relations. While it’s important to avoid unfair generalisations, we have traditionally been reactive, not proactive, in dealing with the press.

A few months ago, I was talking to Jennifer Cloer, the Linux Foundation’s Director of Communications, and I asked her if she’d ever considered running a media training session for free software developers, which would help us improve the situation. She was very enthusiastic about it, and we quickly agreed that the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit would be a great opportunity to make it happen. We made contact with Amanda McPherson, who thought it was a good idea, and the deal was done. On Thursday April 7th, we will run a 4 hour session aimed at giving participants knowledge and tools to deal more effectively with the press.

Among the topics which Jennifer will cover are:

  • Building your story
  • Communications “channels” and when & how to use them
  • Media Training 101
  • Role-Playing Media Interviews
  • Social Media 101
  • Q&A: Upcoming opportunities for your project

As a communications professional with lots of experience, Jennifer is really well placed to give this training. I’m personally looking forward to it, and would recommend any free software marketing people to attend. Space is limited, but open to all Summit attendees. If you do plan to attend, I’d appreciate you letting me know, so that we have an idea of the numbers we can expect.

Curing “Shy Developer Syndrome”

community, freesoftware, maemo, marketing, work 7 Comments

From the Neary Consulting blog:

One of the most common issues I have seen with experienced professional software developers who start to work on community software is a reluctance to engage with public communication channels like mailing lists. Understanding the reasons why, and helping your developers overcome their timidity, is key to creating a successful and fruitful relationship with the community you are working with.

In my experience, common reasons for this timidity are a lack of confidence in written English skills, or technical skills, nervousness related to public peer review, and seeing community interaction as “communication” or “marketing” (which are not part of their job), rather than just “getting stuff done” (which, of course, is part of their job).

Read more…

Line-up pour Ignite Lyon finalisé

community, francais, freesoftware, home, humour, marketing, running, work No Comments

Je viens de finaliser aujourd’hui les présentateurs pour l’inauguration de Ignite Lyon. Les sujets sont assez diverses, du vache à lait à l’informatique bio en passant par la course à pied et l’art libre. Pour ceux qui sont plus du tendance entrepreneur, nous avons également des présentations sur la démarche commerciale ou créer sa première boîte jeune.

Voici la liste des présentateurs pour ce premier Ignite Lyon en order alphabétique, sauf modifications de dernier minute:

Avec une salle qui prendrai autour de 100 personnes, les places risquent d’être chères, même si l’entrée est libre!

Je vous suggére vivement d’être à votre place dans la salle D101 de l’Université Lyon 2, Quai Claude Bernard, à l’ouverture des portes à 18h30 jeudi prochain le 4. Les festivités commenceront vers 19h, jusqu’à 20h30 à peu près, avec une pause pipi au millieu.

Vous pouvez également vous inscrire pour manger un bout après l’événement au Chevreuil, ou nous allons nous retrouver quor quelques boissons raffraichissantes à partir de 20h30.

Vous pouvez trouver plus d’informations sur le site Ignite Lyon. A la semaine prochaine!

Learning how to fund-raise from other non-profits

freesoftware, gnome, marketing 2 Comments

More and more we’re seeing organisations outside the free software world  try to learn the lessons of our success, and integrate “open source” practices into their organisation.

Whether it’s companies adopting transparency and other cluetrain or pinko marketing strategies, proprietary software development companies integrating standard free software practices, or one of the other areas where “crowdsourcing” has become the cool new thing, it’s obvious hat we have gotten some things right, some of the time, and it is definitely worth learning the right lessons from projects like Linux, Mozilla, GNOME, or Wikipedia, and trying to reproduce the magic elsewhere.

Sometimes this feels like the cargo cults in the Pacific Islands, trying to make airplanes land as their ancestors saw 60 years ago, by building airstrips and imitation airplanes. But at least they’re trying to figure out what makes our communities successful.

But are we learning enough lessons from others? It seems to me like we’re charging head first like sharecroppers into undiscovered country, only to find that we’ve run into a highly advanced civilisation.

As developers, we’ve invented our own brand of everything, from scratch. We figure out how to run conferences, or raise money from people who like what we do, when these are not new problems.

This isn’t new in IT. The entire learned history of typography got thrown out the window more or less, because with the advent of WYSIWYG editors and the web, everyone has complete control of their authoring tools and Comic Sans is shipped by default, and if I need to reduce the margins to get the letter to fit on one page then by golly I will.

Merchandising and recruitment of new star talent are more examples of things that some other organisations are pretty good at.

So – as an open question – are we learning the lessons from the past which we should be learning, or is it too attractive to think that what we’re doing is so new that every problem we encounter needs a new solution?

One example of a place where there is a wealth of experience out there is convincing people to give money to a cause they believe in. There are dozens of organisations that do this well – humanitarian organisations, political lobbyists, political parties, universities – the list goes on.

Can we figure out how GNOME is like them, and learn the lessons from their fundraising campaigns?

A typical fundraising drive for an organisation like this has three main steps:

  1. Get a list of potential donors
  2. Convince them that you are doing good
  3. Find a pressure point or argument which will convince them to donate

If you look at a mailing for Médecins Sans Frontières for example, you see all of these points in action. Find potential donors – through sign-up campaigns, former donor drives, referrals. Send them a mail package, with a newsletter outlining good work, but with just enough bad news (new conflicts, new refugees, unfinished projects) and artwork (a smiling nurse taking care of a village vs a child ill from a curable illness) to show that money given to MSF will do good, and the need has never been greater.

Your response rate may be small – perhaps only 1% – but that’s enough.

Whether we’re talking about lobby groups, political parties or humanitarian agencies, the same strategies come into play – construct big databases of potential donors, and get them riled up about the thing they’re passionate about being endangered – show them the shining light of all the good work your organisation does, and then drive the sale home by making it really easy to give money or sign up.

University fundraising is an interesting case – and in fact, GNOME’s fundraising model ressembles it now. Your primary source of donations is alumni, people who have been through the university, like receiving updates every year, maybe a class-mate just became a professor, maybe a friend’s daughter got a prize in the annual awards ceremony, maybe a club or association you were in had a good year? And then you leverage the affection with the flip side of the coin – the need, the things we’d like to do better, the project we’re fundraising for which will allow us to do great work.

All of these organisations invest heavily in direct mailing, in building and maintaining databases of supporters, and in monetising them. I recently read a book by a direct mailing copywriter called “My First 40 Years in Junk Mail” and it opened my eyes to what works in that world – and also gave some ideas on the kinds of strategies maybe the GNOME Foundation should be adopting.

The first step  is building and maintaining a list of GNOME fans and supporters, by any means possible, and ensuring that they are made aware of what we’re up to and what we’d like to do. And, of course, continuing to build great products.

2009 blog links collection

community, freesoftware, gnome, maemo, marketing, running, work No Comments

Looking back on 2009, I wrote quite a bit on here which I would like to keep and reference for the future.

This is a collection of my blog entries which gave, in my opinion, the most food for thought this year.

Free software business practice

Community dynamics and governance

Software licensing & other legal issues

Other general stuff

Happy Christmas everyone, and have a great 2010.

Server migration: the easy stuff

freesoftware, marketing, work 2 Comments

In gathering material for my series on migrating to free software, one thing immediately jumps out at me.

If your server software uses industry standard protocols to communicate with your client software, then finding free replacement software is easy, painless and transparent for the user. Need a DNS service? Bind’ll do, thank you very much. SMTP? You’re spoiled for choice – there’s  Qmail, Postfix, sendmail among others. IMAP, POP3 – try Dovecot, or the UWash IMAP server.  SSH – OpenSSH. FTP – PureFTPd, VSFTPd, proftpd are all fine.  HTTP – Apache os one of many web servers available.

Pretty much anything with an RFC has free software implementations that are complete, and compare well with commercial competitors. Often, as is the case of Bind or Apache, they are the leaders in their space.

In other words, by using only standard client-server protocols, you have freedom to leave.

However, if your server software “integrates” tightly with your client software, in the style of Notes and Domino from Lotus/IBM, or Exchange Server and Outlook, or Sharepoint and Office, or if it has its own proprietary wire protocol, then you may have a pain point.

So the first lesson, I think, is consider how replacable server elements of your infrastructure are at the acquisition, if you want to avoid lock-in later on. As hard as projects like Samba and Zimbra chase the tail-lights of proprietary wire protocols, the easiest way to avoid them is to rely, where possible, of standard, open protocols.

And that’s what I’m looking for more than anything. How do people get around their pain points? Have people had an Exchange or Sharepoint hang-over?  Now that PostPath has gone away, are people looking to get rid of Exchange stuck with Zimbra? Has migrating from MS SQL to a free database server been a pain in the leg? What have people used to centralise authentication and share home directories across the network? Is Samba with LDAP a drop-in solution?

Wisconsin Ubuntu fall-out

community, freesoftware, gnome, marketing 10 Comments


That’s what I am. Bamboozled.

For those who haven’t heard this story over the last week, a young woman in Wisconsin accidentally ordered an Ubuntu laptop from Dell and dropped some college classes because she couldn’t make her internet connection work, because when she put in the CD it didn’t launch, and she didn’t have Microsoft Office, which was a requirement for her online classes.

The story, for me, is the total ignorance that both the university and the ISP have of other operating systems. Instruction manuals have information for Windows, maybe Mac, and outside of that, you’re on your own. A newcomer to Linux can’t get by on their own.

Course requirements list specific commercial programs you need to have. And we have a long hard battle to fight for minds & hearts of the universities, hardware manufacturers, ISPs and everyone else who gives software to users, or who exchange files.

The news station story had a happy ending:

However, we think we’ve helped her get back to school.

Verizon says it will dispatch a technician to try to assist her accessing the internet without using the Windows-only installation disk. Verizon says its high-speed internet does indeed support Ubuntu, but some advanced features and installation disks clearly don’t work with Linux.

MATC also says it promises to accept any of Schubert’s papers or class documents using whatever software she has installed.

Schubert’s computer came with Open Office, a word processing software package that is compatible with Microsoft Word. She says she wasn’t aware it was compatible. MATC promised to show her how to save documents in compatible formats so she could enroll in online courses again.

So – happy ending, right? We’re helping win the hearts and minds, we’ve solved a new user’s problems, and we’ve got some nice press showing how Linux users are neglected by the industry.

Ummm… no. That’s what has me bamboozled.

The story quickly got spun as “news channel said Ubuntu sucks” on tech blogs looking for a big headline. And from there, all of a sudden, the reaction of “Ubuntu fans” becomes the story. The young woman in question got some abuse for not figuring out how to solve her problems – she was “lazy”, “a dumb girl”. The news channel gets lambasted for “unscrupulous reporting”.

We all get lumped in the same bucket. When I go to free software conferences and say I work with GNOME, I hear stories about rude behaviour of others in the GNOME community. Outside the free software world, people don’t make a distinction between the lunatic fringe and people like Mark Shuttleworth or anyone in between.

One of these days that’s going to change. The loony fringe will become the loony fringe, and the mainstream will go mainstream. It’s happened with every “movement” to come from off the radar, and it will happen to us. In the meantime we need to start controlling the story – reminding people what’s important, and generally drowning out the fringe.

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