In 2010, I went from being an amateur community organizer to being a professional. That is, I quit my job and made a bet that I could somehow make a living by organising community events encouraging people to use open source, something I had been doing for the past decade while earning nothing from it. In the four plus years since, I ended up running two experiments without realising it.
In the first, I had a vision for how things should work, so I built towards that vision. I wanted the community to adopt the open web and open source, so I organised conferences around those topics. I wanted peer review to ensure a high quality of content, so I built peer review tools and processes. The conferences were entirely top down. I had a vision for how they should work, and that's how they were built.
In the second, I kept getting requests for help with a certain problem, but I wasn't interested in it, so to tell people to stop bothering me, I built a website where they could talk to each other without involving me. I didn't want to be bothered for support, so I didn't put any contact information on the site. There was almost no way to tell who had built it or how to contact me. Everything about the site was to tell people to help each other as they saw fit, I had no interest in their problems.
The first experiment was HasGeek, which I'm happy to say has succeeded in paying salaries for a team of ten. Before we attempted this, nobody thought it was possible, so my top-down approach to it has been working. The second I did not even bother to give it a proper name. I called it "Has job" as a joke, then added "HasGeek Job Board" to clarify in case someone didn't understand. Hasjob doesn't earn anything for HasGeek, but has been so successful people think HasGeek is a job board company that for some reason organises events. People have trouble believing that nobody in HasGeek works on Hasjob day-to-day, the site just runs itself.
In 2013 we started having a spam problem with HR agencies harassing employers, so to get people to stop complaining, we started hiding contact information and requiring a user account to apply for a job. When we checked again in 2014, we had over thirty thousand user accounts! Hasjob was actually bigger than HasGeek now! And yet nobody in HasGeek (except me) knew anything about how Hasjob worked.
In 2015, I sat down to understand what had happened. How come a site we built to tell people to go away was doing better than something we did full time? The answer is that it was a bottom-up approach, while organising events was top-down. Bottom-up gets you great return for minimal effort, but the community goes where it wants to. Top-down gives you control, but it's a lot of work to push the community in the direction you want to go.
All of HasGeek's code is open source and available at https://github.com/hasgeek
- Top-down: the HasGeek story
- Bottom-up: the Hasjob story
- Bottom-up doesn't mean no control: understanding how to exercise subtle influences
- What does this mean for your community?
Community managers and volunteers, no technical background required, but some experience of working with open source communities is required.