How to build an open source community. And why this is the wrong question.

Mark Zuckerberg once was asked by a newspaper publisher for advice on “how he could build and own his community.” The facebook founder just answered: “You can’t.”

What Zuckerberg later explained was that you cannot “create” a certain community because the community already exists. All you can do is to provide “smart tools” that help people to connect and communicate.

We often thought about this simple but important theory. Before starting to evolve the concept of Corrigo we did a big deal of research / market analysis. What we found were concepts that were never realised, venture capital driven start-ups that did not survive its seed funding or even projects that still exist but certainly could use more user interaction.

So in the end one thing became clear: Critical mass is, well, a critical subject. To us this result was not that surprising as we experienced, built and tested several (journalistic) projects that failed to reach a sufficient audience.

But regarding Corrigo, we see at least two “communities” that we have to think of. Besides the user who is supposed to mark and correct factual errors, there is also the undefined group of hackers that we hacks do count on.

One thing is clear: This group has to be the open source community as Corrigo has to be open source. In our thesis, we follow the idea that media accountability has to rely on the people and thus could not be the product of a privately held company. We think, this fits the spirit of the open source community.

Long before we applied for the Knight-Mozilla challenge we read through the Mozilla Manifesto because we wanted to understand how “they” feel about open source. Chris Heilmann also referred to this manifesto and described Mozilla as the “Red Cross of the Internet”.

I like this comparison in terms of openess, image and usefulness (not so much in terms of fundraising though :)). Still, the fact that the idea of Corrigo and the spirit of open source  fit quite well, this “does not guarantee that hordes of active developers will suddenly
volunteer their time
” to our project.

For reaching the critical mass among the hackers we already know the wrong question: “How to build an open source community for Corrigo?”.

But fortunately there is a good “homework” to work on for the final of the Knight-Mozilla learning lab: a software product proposal.

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