Marketing open source projects

July 8, 2016 - 7 minutes read

Marketing open source projects

Open source software has grown in popularity in the past decade. Look at the success of the projects under Apache software foundation and softwares like Linux (OS) and Python (Programming language). Companies also take pride in declaring that their stack is completely based on open source.

Success of an open source project depends on many factors:

  • Software architecture and design patterns
  • Technical know how of the contributors
  • Need of such projects in the industry
  • Barrier to contribution
  • Industry backing

To continue to make an open source project successful, you rely heavily on adoption and contributions from developers. For this to happen, grabbing community attention is imperative. There are many good open source projects that fit the bill but are simply not popular or their adoption is very low. This makes us believe that development of a great project and popularising one are two different things. That’s why there is a need for marketing these projects.

In this article, we take a look at marketing strategies that developers use to spread the word and generate attention for their open source projects.

Project Websites and README

Have you looked at the README of some of the more popular open source projects on Github? Their READMEs are usually in rich format and have pointers to resources like presentations, code samples and demo videos. They begin to  act as a project’s marketing brochure. A project website is the first entry point to itself. Projects showcase successful implementations on their site and how it is a part of production deployment for a great e-commerce/social network website. All this is aimed at social proofing. Here’s a great example, Apache Solr does a great job in making the project transparent, easy to contribute and the resources section is very rich, which keeps the developer community engaged.

Social Media

How did you learn about the coolest queueing system or devops tool in town? I bet you must’ve seen mentions on certain projects making rounds in Twitter or LinkedIn? I’m sure your friend liked their page and it came up on your feed. I already see you smiling, but yeah, its a fact. RabbitMQ was first released way back in 2006 but if you look at their Twitter pages, Apache Kafka has more followers than RabbitMQ even though Kafka is a relatively newer queueing mechanism. Of course, both tools are great in what they do and it’s upto you as a developer to choose the right one for your needs. 

Another example of social media is Stack Overflow. It is meant to be a no nonsense group and people gain credibility by responding with quality answers to the questions asked. A popular stack overflow comment can do wonders to a live project.


You’ve read a lot about new technologies from the experts who often guest post or write on their own blogs. You are already follow a few of them, don’t you? These blogs do a great job in bringing out the best aspects or USPs of the open source projects they evangelise or contribute to. Blogs are often compelling and you almost fall in love for these projects. Just look at the Docker blog. It talks about Docker’s awesome features and updates on what’s new in the upcoming release. I must say these blogs have done a great job in increasing docker adoption.

Conference Talks

A Conference talk is another way to generate traction for your open source project. Conference talks are always well attended and viewed on YouTube. You get to interact live with the community and answer their specific questions. Many likes and nice comments for your talk can easily grab attention of the developer community. Links get shared and it increases the likelihood of the project being accepted by the community at larger scale.

Any publicity is good

Most of you have heard of the latest fumble in the javascript world. Azer Koçulu unpublished more than 250 of his modules from NPM, which is a popular package manager used by JavaScript projects to install dependencies. One of the modules was called ‘left-pad’. Thousands of node and babel projects internally relied on left-pad. This resulted in huge outcry in the JS community. Now many developers have started looking at JS and Node libraries because of the sheer milage and coverage the community and this incident received. It may not have be done on purpose, but it is interesting, isn’t it?

Personality of the lead developer

Kenneth Reitz was the one who developed the open source project requests. The package is well made but the way he talks about the package is what makes it awesome. The passion and enthusiasm for his work is huge and it is contagious. Same thing goes with Ryan Dahl, look at his talks on Node.js. I was inspired and encouraged to try out the programming language myself. Personality of the lead developer plays a critical role in the adoption of the project. They are the chief evangelisers of the project and because of their efforts the project runs.

My two cents

There are a lot of different ways open source projects use to ‘woo’ developers. Engineer driven marketing has essentially been a major contributor to popularising the open source projects in a big way and will continue to do so! It may not sound great, but if you have to make your open source project successful or stand out, it will require your time and effort to help promote it. You are your projects biggest champion.


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