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Join Percona’s HOSS (Head of Open Source Strategy) Matt Yonkovit as he sits down with Jono Bacon, Community & Collaboration Consultant and Author to talk about building and growing Communities! Listen in on the discussion on the impact of the pandemic, the growth of diverse and larger communities, the free open source software community in action, ideas on measuring the effect and impact of community efforts , and more.
Jono BaconCommunity & Collaboration Consultant and Author
Jono is the author of ‘People Powered: How communities can supercharge your business, brand, and teams’, and ‘The Art of Community’. Jono has also written on community for Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Fortune, and elsewhere. Listen into this dive into building and managing communities.
Matt Yonkovit: Everybody, welcome to another HOSS Talks FOSS and today I am here with Jono Bacon. Now, as you know, I love open source, and Jono has been a long time person who’s been in charge of many different communities: canonical GitHub, XPrize, Open Advantage, all kinds of different things. He’s been the author of a couple of books, People Powered and the Art of Community. And I thought, talking about open source, we have to talk about where it all starts, which is with the community. So I brought in Jono to talk with us. Hi, Jono, how are you doing?
Jono Bacon: I’m doing great. Thank you for having me online, I feel honored. So, appreciate it.
Matt Yonkovit: Now, Joel, I’ve seen you at several different conferences over the years. And I’m looking forward to getting back in person. I don’t know about you. It’s been a couple of years now since we’ve actually been at conferences in person. So I’m sure that that has impacted everybody in the world. But how have you been during this COVID time with all of these virtual conferences? I mean, how have you been keeping up?
Jono Bacon: Yeah. Yeah, it’s been interesting. Everyone’s got their own COVID experience, right. And it’s a difficult subject to talk about, because, I mean, obviously, and sadly, so many people have lost their lives all over the world, and it’s continuing to rage on. And me and my little family, we’re very lucky we live in suburbia, we got plenty of room. And my wife and I both work from home. So we haven’t had it anywhere near as bad as most people. And due to the nature of my work, it’s actually ended up being, if I’m being honest with you, it’s actually ended up being good for my overall learning, if you will, like I’ve kind of spent more time focusing on kind of the marketing side and virtual events and really trying to see this as an opportunity to learn about how we all kind of collaborate together when we’re in this kind of compressed situation where everyone’s stuck at home. So I’ve actually found that the pandemic is actually, while it’s been, of course, it’s been horrible for most people. You know, we’ve been safe first, which is the most important thing for me. But I’ve actually learned a lot. And it’s actually been a productive time, weirdly. So I feel unnecessarily lucky in that regard we haven’t had anyone who that we know, that’s close to us, that’s passed away. We’ve not dealt with any bereavement like that. So yeah, so that’s kind of where it’s been not. And one thing that has been, I think this has been the busiest year I’ve ever experienced in my life. I’ve worked more than I can imagine. And doing really fun stuff as well. Like, I was a little worried at the beginning, when the pandemic kicked off the who are the first people that get cut in a pandemic, it’s consultants, its contractors, right. And it didn’t impact my business one iota. And it actually made it easier in many ways to work with my clients because I wasn’t sitting on freeways stuck in traffic and all the rest of it.
Matt Yonkovit: So, yeah. And in your business is helping other people build their communities?
Jono Bacon: Yeah. Right.
Matt Yonkovit: Yeah. And, and that’s why I wanted to talk with you on the podcast today, because being in the community space, and presenting at several conferences, virtually, of course, over the last year, I have heard more and more people talk about how to build a community and ask questions. Specifically, everybody has a little bit different goal. But everyone is looking to tap into the power of community. Now, I thought to myself who’s been doing community since community was really a thing. And that’s you. So that’s why you know, here we are talking. It seems like everyone out there is looking for that community team, the devrel team, the advocacy team, evangelists, however you want to define them. But what do you think’s driving to this rise, in this the popularity of this particular trend? I mean why, why all of a sudden are people taking note of community, whereas before community was kind of like, Oh, yeah, we just need that guy who goes to conferences and talks before?
Jono Bacon: Yeah. So I think there’s there’s some kind of more zoomed in things that are happening. And then I think there’s a zoomed out thing that’s happening. So I think the zoomed in thing that’s happening is that and I think the pandemic contributed towards this is that certainly in parts of the world where the internet is prevalent, and a lot of people have got the ability to get online and especially get into rich mediums like video chats and whatever else, is I think a lot of people’s eyes were opened up to just what you can do online. I think a lot of people were not familiar with it, I mean, just look at what happened with Zoom, like Zoom became a household name. And a lot of people that I am connected to like friends outside of tech and things like that had never heard of Zoom, they didn’t have any need to do video conferencing really. So I think one element was, wow, let’s look at what’s possible when we’re pushed into a situation where we need to be human with each other online. And I think that’s one element. There’s also just kind of like, an overall trend towards people using social technology, right. And this kind of connects to the zoomed out view, which, when I, when I put out People Powered in November 2019, I think it was, one thing I’d, by the way I’d recommend is, don’t put a book out just before a global pandemic.
Matt Yonkovit: Why? People haven’t had to read, right?
Jono Bacon: But one of the things I was I had a PR team that was like, booking me on just, I must have done like 60 or 70 podcasts in the space of about four months, it was absolutely insane. And one of the things I was talking to a lot of people about who were brand new community was people are growing up now young people have grown up where they’ve only ever known the Internet and specifically only ever known a social internet, they’ve known Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and, and all the rest of it. So what’s happened there is that it changes the relationship that people have with each other and with the brands that they care about, right? Back in the early days, if you had a, if you did business with a company, then you and you had an issue with something you’d call a one 800 phone number. And they’d help you. And then the Internet happened and people started sending emails to their customers. And but it was always broadcast, he was always there communicating with you. And now we’ve got a world where we expect to be able to take a United flight, have terrible service, and then complain about it on Twitter and get a response. It is kind of the world we live in. So I think that’s changing what companies have to react to in terms of how to build communities. And then you hear all these amazing success stories of Harley Davidson, of Lego, of the SAP community, all kinds of communities that have grown up and doing great stuff. And I think a lot of companies that well, we want that, too. So that’s why I think we’re seeing more and more of a demand for that the tricky thing with communities is that it’s witchcraft. You know, it’s incredibly confusing for most people, how you take a bunch of strangers on the internet, bring them together in a way that will make them want to come to keep coming back. It’s really complex. And I think a lot of people fail at it, and therefore, they struggle with it.
Matt Yonkovit: But isn’t that a little bit because there are so many different outcomes or goals that people end up with? I mean, across the span of companies that I’ve talked to, every company has a different outcome of why they’re involved in the community, why they’re looking for a different reason why they’re looking for a community team some want just raw adoption. Just, I just want people to use my stuff. That’s what yeah, that’s how I measure success is more people using the better. Or some people want actual, like in the open-source space, they want code contributions. They want people to come in and contribute code and provide feedback or fix bugs or whatever. That’s what they set up for. And others just want awareness. And so you have like these different companies all focused on the same term, but what vastly different things? Because I mean, this is where I’ve seen community teams, DevRel teams existed, marketing existed, engineering existed, product exists, like in every type of department, across an organization. Why is there so much difference in how people think about this, and what those outcomes are? I’ve seen it personally, where someone gets into it, and they want, let’s say, code contributions, they can’t get them. So they might get tonnes of awareness, but they’re like, I don’t care about awareness. I just want code contributions. Why aren’t you getting code contributions? Right? Where does that kind of settle in? Like, what’s your take on that?
Jono Bacon: Yeah, it’s a great question as well. I think there is. A couple of components to this, like one, is, what is the core fundamental motivation that individuals have in what they do? There’s like if you think about yourself, and I think about myself, and just the way we operate our lives, there are the things that we say we want to do. And then there are things we actually want, right? And I think these are often two separate things. For example, I came to the realization back in 2015 that I don’t like working for companies like I don’t want to work for a single company, it’s for various reasons. I like building my own thing. I like having control over my own destiny, I don’t like trudging into an office all day, I find commuting to be not just annoying, but infuriating, then I realized, despite being in a bit of a rat race for many years, I just didn’t like that. Right. And I think a lot of people have similar things like that, that they define like, another thing for me is, music is really, I mean, family is the most important thing, like my family is everything to me. But outside of that, to me is the base of the pyramid, right, of the hierarchy of needs. But even above that, like control of my own destiny, and creativity, and whether it’s work, or whether it’s making music with our own cars, and whatever else is important. And I think with any community, whether it’s a free software project, or whether it’s a commercial community, there is a fundamental motivator behind it, right? I think, especially in free software and in open source, the fundamental motivator, for most people I’ve ever met is twofold. It’s, I want to do really interesting stuff and solve interesting technical problems. And I want to have an impact like I want to make the world better. And free software and open source is a way in which I can do so. Whereas with some companies, a lot of my clients, for example, when I talk to them and they say, yeah, we want to build a really compelling, dynamic, engaging community for people. And when I dig beneath the surface, what they actually want is brand recognition. They just want to be famous. They want to know who they are. And with some, their underlying motivation is money, it’s revenue. So I think we need to zone in on what those things are. The tricky thing is that I think with some community, folks, there’s a snootiness about it, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying, I want to build a community and the ultimate goal is to make money, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, I think where the criticism can be applied is how you go about achieving that goal. So to me, we just got to be honest with our motivations. And the good news is that communities can configure facilitate all of these different things, songs that are designed in the right way.
Matt Yonkovit: Well, and what’s interesting is, some of this is also being driven by the diverse companies that are implementing these, these community teams. Now, certainly, as you mentioned some examples of whether it’s retail or consumer products, building communities to try and address like social questions or be able to have that presence and connect with people who are users of the product, but long has the community, especially in the software space, in the technical space been heavily associated with either that kind of, support side of the business or even like, the open-source side of the companies, yeah, but we’re starting to see that evolve into companies that aren’t necessarily technology companies first. Right. So banks, insurance companies yeah, financial institutions, they’re looking to adopt more of that openness, more of that collaboration. Now, what’s interesting is, some of them are looking to just do it internally because there are such large organizations, it’s like, we’ve got 50,000 people, so we need a community to understand internally each other, and then you’ve got others who really do want to collaborate externally. And so there’s this weird kind of intersection that I’m starting to see quite a bit as well, where you’ve got that this company that you’re like, why do you need an OSPO? Why do you need an open-source project office? Why what are you trying to do, like, I don’t understand. And I’ve started to see where a lot of companies that have classically been open source, they’re tending to be more guarded and less open in their development, whereas a lot of these traditional organizations aren’t like, Oh, we want to adopt those open-source philosophies, contribute back code, and hopefully get other people to help make this project better, get traction out of it. And I think that’s a big difference between how you focus your efforts, you mentioned, like, some companies just want to make more money. You know, whereas other companies this isn’t their main product, right? This is just something that they’re doing. Like Facebook famously gives away a tonne of open-source software, or other companies like that, that they’re just looking to contribute and build relationships across multiple companies to help build better products.
Jono Bacon: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that’s one of the things that was a real dramatic realization to me and this was about this was in about 2008. I think it was 2009 when I discovered this is when I got interested in free software and open-source back 1998, so 10 years prior, I had never really experienced a lot of community right beyond going to my local metal bar and seeing bands with my friends, which was a community in itself, but it was more of just a bunch of mates hanging out. And so, therefore, I associated community with open source and free software. And it took me 10 years to realize that is not the norm. Like what we have in the open-source free software world is weird. Most communities aren’t like that. The word like the idea that I mean, you’ve probably seen this, the amount of times someone who just has an idea and then just starts building it, right is in itself an unusual concept, right? I’ll give it I’ll give you a stupid example. So we had an Ubuntu Developer Summit in Dallas, Texas. And I was hanging out with my best buddy Stuart Langridge who I do a podcast with bad voltage. And we were hanging out one morning, having a cup of coffee and just talking and we were joking about. So, Mark Shuttleworth, he was the founder of canonical Right, right, it took to wear in these white pants. And they looked stupid. They looked, he looked like he was in the BJs. And so we were kind of joking about these white pants. And I was joking to shut with like Mark’s face about this direct, I was like, what was happening with those pants, they’re ridiculous. And it’s like this style gentle teacher about it one day, it was okay. And I was trying to bribe the guy who ran the AV for our event that when we kicked off the morning of UDS, I wanted him to play Saturday Night Fever by the BJs, when Mark went on to the stage, right. Of course, he knew that his job was not worth it was worth a lot more than my casual trolling. So he politely declined. So that’s when Stuart and I were talking about I was maintaining a project called you kosha. Back then, which was a music production tool for genome that is built on G stream and G streamer, which is an audio-video platform like API had a feature in it, called network clocks. So if you play an audio file on your computer, and I play one on my computer, they can be synced up to Ustream or sync them up to the play at exactly the same time. So I was saying to Stuart, wouldn’t it be hilarious if we wrote a bit of software where you press a button, and then it triggers everybody’s network clocks on their laptop, and let’s say a 100 people all running the software, and through their laptop speakers, it plays Saturday Night Fever at the same time when it comes on stage. And, and he was like, that is a ridiculous concept. And we sat down, we started writing it. And we wrote this, I can’t even remember what it’s called now. But we wrote the first version of this, and it kind of worked, we never actually went through with it for the event, Mark would have thought it was hilarious because Mark Shuttleworth has got a wicked sense of humor. But what I loved about that was, that’s a good example of free software and open source in action, someone has a random idea, and then you just go and build it. And if you’ve got, if you want to build a community around conservation, or around, I don’t know, merchandising, or around music or anything else, it’s not as easy to generate the thing that brings people together and that’s one of things that’s so unique about free software and open source. And other companies and our and other organizations are seeing the power of, of community. But we have to do it in a different way. We can’t just replicate the principles within the open-source world, they don’t just carbon copy, move over to these other areas.
Matt Yonkovit: I think that people are starting to realize that there is some real power there. But I think one of the big struggles that I’ve seen a lot of people see is, Hey, this is cool. As you can, you can develop these things, you can move fast you connect with your user base on, but eventually, they’re because there reaches a point where someone starts to ask those questions that are really hard to answer, which is stuff like, Well, how do I measure what I’m getting out of these efforts? How do I measure community? it’s great that you’re out there doing these fun, cool, engaging things you’re talking to people on Twitter? How do I measure? Like, if I’m getting my money’s worth, let’s just be honest. It’s mainly like people who were financially motivated asking the questions around, like, Where’s my budget going in this company? And it generally takes about a year or two from a company launching a community thing to say like, what’s the outcome that I’m getting from this money that I just invested? Yeah. And it’s interesting that the two sides that I’ve seen people measure obviously, if you’re really focused on the code contributions PRs bugs like, you look at the GitHub statistics, and you’re like, whew. Whereas the other side is, oh, I’m gonna look at downloads or page views, or Twitter followers or like, you’re gonna look at some metric that’s a quantitative metric on like I get more, so more is potentially good. But there seems to be like this, this debate on which is, which is reasonable, and there’s a lot of like, uncertainty around what should be measured. And I’m curious what have you seen what, what’s your recommendation in terms of measurements and trying to figure out how to show the effectiveness of community?
Jono Bacon: Wow, this is, this is such a big subject, and there’s so much. I think that we have a disease that is spreading around the world. And it is data fetishism. There is an obsession right now, with trying to measure all of the things. And there is a trendiness around creating these insane analytics dashboards that measure every conceivable thing that can change in a community open source project, whatever else. And the idea is that the justification for this is if we measure everything, then if we ever need to reference that data, we’ve got it, and we can evaluate it. And that gives us a useful tool that we can use. But to me, that is no different to buying a bomb shelter and filling it with macaroni and cheese in the case that there is a zombie apocalypse occurs. Right? It’s work that ultimately will rarely actually be useful later on. So the way I look at it is, there are two pieces to this, there’s what do you measure? And then how do you measure it? And I think the first thing we need to differentiate between is like, what do we measure? And what are the most important things to measure? Right, so the one thing that’s been bandied around in recent years is the ROI of community the return on investment of community. And I think it’s a misnomer. And the reason why is because the real value of community and the reason why they’re so magical, and I don’t, I’m not using that in an overly kind of poetic sense, the communities really are genuinely magical because they bring together the best of what makes us human beings. My career wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for communities. The things I’ve learned everything that I’m talking about today has a lineage to somebody else that I’ve met in my life, the real credit for it. And so the magic of communities is immeasurable. In the same way that we don’t measure love. Like, I don’t measure my love for my wife. I’m not saying, Well, today, I don’t have a spreadsheet for that I do. I mean, yeah. Today, she kissed me 17 times, and the average duration of each kiss was 3.4 seconds. And we think it’s completely insane to do that. Like, we just accept that love is a thing when we feel it, and it’s good. And communities, in terms of the experience, the feel of community is not something you can measure, you can’t measure what a great song sounds like, what a great movie feels like, you can’t measure what great food tastes like. It’s a sensation that we experienced as human beings. So the ROI of that, I think, is stupid. And I think we need to stop talking about that. It’s a complete dead end, as far as I’m concerned. What I think is different is, is how we drive towards success in communities. And we should measure that, right. So for example, if you launch a forum, measuring the right things to determine that you’re building your forum in the right way, you’re generating the right kind of results should absolutely be measured. And this is usually where the litany of dashboards comes in. And my view is very simple, which is to ask yourself, what are the questions we don’t have answers to, and then pick the smallest number of metrics that you can select, to generate enough information to answer that question. So for example, if we’re talking about a GitHub repo, and you don’t know whether you’re efficient enough as a project, which a lot of GitHub projects, they just don’t know that. Well, I would want to track Okay. How many pull requests am I getting submitted? What is the average time to the first response in that pull request? And then what is the average duration of a pull request being reviewed and then merged in? Like there’s a three data point means that we’ll be able to sufficiently answer that question. And then I can start moving the needle in terms of each of those different things with forums, I generally will track four things I track pageviews signups daily active users, percentage of daily active users, and the number of likes, because that gives me a sense of sentiment an average forum will give you 50 things to measure, I don’t care about those things, right, I care about those four things.
Matt Yonkovit: So that’s what we tend to keep it simple.
Jono Bacon: Keep it simple. Yeah. And, and, and we don’t have to measure everything this is one thing that drives me nuts about the society that we live in right now is you get all the ducks in the Internet, who are trying to turn everything into an algorithm. Like, there’s a guy who I know who shall remain nameless, he was got a workflow for absolutely everything. And he is the kind of talks and in a very braggadocious manner about, oh, we’re gonna have a team meeting, or this is the workflow, we’re going to have a meetup, this is the workflow and everything’s got a workflow. And, to me, it takes the creativity and the fun out of it, we don’t have to have a workflow for everything, like sometimes I think we want to do good work. But I think to a certain degree, we just not everything can be boiled down into a recipe.
Matt Yonkovit: I think from a community perspective, isn’t that part of the whole benefit of the community, I mean, the community is all about building the sense of belonging, feeling like you want to be part of and you want to contribute, and you feel like there’s a connection, right? I mean, that’s really what you’re talking about. And the more that you potentially do everything as an automaton, or a robot, the less human connection, you actually get. And I think that’s that that’s an interesting thing, and this is where, I mean, I’ve seen quite a bit of community development over the last few years, where you’ll see, you’ll have kind of a group that’s more on that, let’s reach out and be touchy-feely, that’s, that’s heavily on the DevRel side, right? The advocacy side, where you’re out there, you’re teaching people you’re talking, you’re, you’re trying to connect, and then you’ve got the group of the operations, people in the community space, who are very data-driven, who it’s like, I need to get 15,000 Twitter followers, by the end of the month, I need to get this many active users on my forum. And so you do have a split because there are people who are very focused on trying to teach people and make those personal connections, and then there are a lot of other people who are just there to run the workflows. And, and you get both, both are needed to some extent. But I think that if anyone has too much balance, you tend to lose one provides, right?
Jono Bacon: Oh, I was just gonna say, like everything to me, everything can be compared to music. You know, and it’s like Eric Clapton once said great music, it’s not the notes that you play, it’s the notes that you don’t play. And, imagine if we wrote music, and the same way that we sometimes think about business when I think about even a formulaic band, like AC/DC, or a very formulaic that write every song sounds like some variation, the same kind of thing. And you could probably create a mathematical equation like the I don’t know, the Angus theorem or something like that.
Matt Yonkovit: Somebody actually did that, where they developed a program to develop AC/DC music. I think there’s a YouTube video where they did that they just output a whole new song.
Jono Bacon: Yeah, exactly. wouldn’t surprise me. But what makes them so unique as a band with AC/DC, specifically, is the way they play the songs. And, and to me, the greatest music in the world is where you break the formula. I do this as a musician, I’ve got a music project called Baron Carta. And often when I’m writing music, I’ll get to a point and I’ll think this is what I hear next in my head. But that’s my algorithm telling me what comes next in the list. And then I deliberately say to myself, no, pick something else. Whereas in business, often it’s like, this is the steps that you go through. This is what we documented into our standards of practice and all this kind of stuff. And it’s in our JIRA. And it’s like, I think we have to mix science and art together and the most enjoyable things in the world where people break the path
Matt Yonkovit: So I did search there is a bot out there to generate AC/DC music. If you’re interested in that. You will look down because you have to listen to that bot-generated AC/DC and say like, Oh yeah, it actually does sound like an AC/DC.
Jono Bacon: I hear like an AI bot that generated death metal. And he was actually pretty sure.
Matt Yonkovit: Was it? Oh, okay. Yeah. All right.
Jono Bacon: No, too bad. Yeah. So.
Matt Yonkovit: All right. Well, great. So Jono, I want to be respectful of time, I want to thank you for sitting down and chatting with us a little bit about communities and where you see things going. I do appreciate you hanging out with us for a little bit of time here. And hopefully, you have a great rest of your day.
Jono Bacon: Likewise, thank you for having me on. Appreciate it.
Matt Yonkovit: Wow, what a great episode that was. We really appreciate you coming and checking it out. We hope that you love open source as much as we do. If you like this video, go ahead and subscribe to us on the YouTube channel. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. And of course, tune into next week’s episode. We really appreciate you coming and talking open-source with us. ∎