Open Communities and Support

I wasn't a student of collaborative methodologies or a dedicated open source enthusiast when I began my relationship with Fedora. I wanted to learn to use the software, got help from the community, and wanted to return the favor. Some of you might remember those early efforts, and justly commend yourselves on your patience :)

In the intervening years, I've learned a lot more than I set out to. There's a culture in the Fedora community that's consistently offering a hand up, guiding towards better understanding, and iteratively improving for all.

Support Communities

Tech support has become a ubiquitous part of modern society. I think everyone's gone through the frustrating process of trying their best to make something work, giving in, and calling the toll-free number on the box for rote instructions.

In open source support venues such as #fedora, Ask Fedora, or various mailing lists, I found people offering assistance not out of obligation, but out of passion. There are no designated roles; sometimes you get help, sometimes you provide it. You might get very direct assistance, or discover a completely different approach to your problem that's much more effective.

People in Support

The most impressive aspect of this relationship to me is the attitude of the participants. Assertive or even coarse personalities accept and welcome correction of their statements, and discourse largely revolves around the merit of the ideas communicated. Because the conversations are accessible to all, everyone has the opportunity to benefit from answers to questions they've never thought to ask. I've gathered a lot of best-practices habits from reading mailing lists.

The take-home axiom from today's post is that the best way to learn is to teach - and the open nature of Fedora's support community not only proves it, but it affords us the opportunity to be taught while we teach, and about our teaching, and so on. These groups have grown their own continuous improvement mechanisms.

Enabling and onboarding users

To an open source project, a thriving support community offers more than just user satisfaction. It provides valuable feedback on the usability of your products, directly and by inference. With experienced contributors in the mix, contribution opportunities and community roles can be paired with individuals with particular skills. An IRC channel can serve as a recruiting station, simply by demonstrating the tenor of the community.

For a small project, this is easy; the developers communicate with each other over some medium, and make that communication channel available to their users. As a project grows, the development discussions begin to confuse or obscure the user questions, so another channel is used. This progression leads to the user channel serving itself, with expert users fielding questions from novices. The immediate user concerns are better served, but there's a loss of the tight sense of community that comes from talking directly with the developers.

How you think Fedora's user support lists and IRC channels can improve the user/developer feedback loop, and better catalyze new contributors? Comment and share!


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