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The Value of Transparency

Posted by Michael Harvey on September 28, 2007 4:15 PM EDT
Michael H. photo

Open source software can justifiably claim to have spawned one of the most vibrant and intelligent communities in existence. The main tenet of the open source community—and this should go without saying—is openness, running from the decisions made by the higher echelons of management at open source software companies down to the very bedrock of the code itself. This tenet has turned the traditional marketing cycle on its head.

As more companies embrace an open culture, there are fewer rumors about potential deals, releases and products, and this positively affects the quality of products. This is not to say that rumor mongering no longer exists: gossip and speculation accompany all healthy communities—it comes with the territory. There is, however, more knowledge of what is happening internally within each company in the open source space, than in other sectors. Dana Blankenhorn recently pointed out in a blog posting;

“What passes for rumor is speculation over the importance of things which have, in fact, happened. Even among proprietary vendors.”

In essence, because users are already familiar with the products under speculation, they are only left with guessing future impact. In short, open source users have an inherent understanding of their role in shaping the software and direction of a vendor.

This knowledge has several implications:
1.) Companies embody what users want. As the community voices its thoughts and concerns in real-time, the enhanced feedback leads to products that users want.
2.) Faster spread of information. In today’s collaborative Web 2.0 environment, information travels at breakneck speed throughout the software world. As products evolve, users talk about them more and more and become increasingly involved in their actual development. The more ownership users have of products, the greater they want to utilize them.
3.) More trust. Trust is a premium in the business world. If a potential user is able to read the comments of a community on open forums, and view the product’s progress, they will be able to see at first hand how reputable the product is, and the degree to which it is serviced. By experiencing an open source company delivering on its promises at first hand, a potential user is more likely to trust, and therefore want to utilize, the company’s software.

Matt Asay, in his “10 things the world can learn from open source” makes a great point on the subject of transparency and trust:

Transparency breeds trust, and trust breeds revenue. Open source teaches us to reveal the supposed crown jewels—source code—but it also teaches open-source companies to provide open roadmaps, user forums, etc. The more transparent a company, the less time that is wasted on helping customers to justify a purchase decision. Give them maximum information and then sell to them on their terms, when they're ready to buy. In the open-source world this translates into dramatically shorter sales cycles because by the time a customer knocks on your door, they're already sold.

To sum up, it is a never-ending cycle of openness breeding beneficial two-way relationships that bring more users into the fold. As openness grows, so do communication, trust and the user base. As more users get involved, they bring with them a more detailed and wider range of input, thereby ensuring continued innovation.

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