My thoughts about community management

David Eaves wrote about open source contributions recently, and how community managers fit into the picture.

He remixed a graph from Angie Byron, and I wasn’t completely happy with the results. A fairly long twitter thread ensued, between myself, Jeffrey McManus, Emma Jane Hogbin and Peter Krenesky. In the end, David piped up and asked if I’d comment on his blog. So I did. :)


I commented via a long twitter thread that I “disagree with putting comm mgmt between user/dev. like @webchick’s ideas better.:)

To flesh that out a bit — my gut reaction to the ultimate diagram you created is that it puts community managers *between* users and developers.. This is a convenient way to demonstrate a process, but ultimately, I have to disagree with the premise behind it.

I work to break down barriers between “users” and “developers”. My ideal world is one where the two overlap to a very large extent. I dislike models of open source community development which seem to promote the idea that there needs to be an intermediary.

I agree that most communities require an interface — it is rarely self-evident how one goes about joining a community if you were on the outside. Many times it is an organic process — your friends invite you, or you run into someone at a conference or bar, or you have to use or work on a piece of software for work. For those who, for whatever reason, are not already on the inside, having a single point of contact (a “community manager”, or in the amusing case of the open source developer group I primarily work with – a “liaison”) can be an invaluable tool.

However, I do not see that role as one that ultimately should belong to just one person. If I do my job right, eventually, people won’t even come to me any more. They will go directly to the individuals inside the community they most want to connect with — because I have managed to open up our community interfaces to the point that they are self-documenting, or easily found with a few clicks on our website.

Possibly, this vision is a bit unrealistic in the near term. But I’ll paraphrase my friend Audrey — it’s way more fun to craft your reality, than it is to passively experience it.

One thought on “My thoughts about community management

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  1. I agree with most of what you’ve said. I generally think that these “Community Managers” are ultimately a marketing position designed to communicate company decisions in a positive light to volunteer developers. It’s a bleak outlook, but I think it reflects reality.

    I used to think it was useful for any organization to have someone with a title like “Liaison” or Community Contact, but now I agree with you that it’s better to have everyone in the org interfacing with the community on a regular basis. Putting up barriers is taking a page from corporate PR handbooks and I think it’s bad for fostering cooperation between employees and a volunteer community.