Posted on 2011-02-28 by jwage
This morning I got an e-mail from someone asking for some pointers on how to build a successul open source project. It’s a difficult question to answer. In the end I think it comes down to a lot of things, but mainly it is being consistent and active. I responded to him with some of my thoughts and when I was done I practically had a blog post so I decided flesh it out a little more and post it here.
First, it is extremely important for your project to have a name and an identity. Just pick a word, anything, something is better than nothing. Then pick some colors and slice up a logo in Photoshop.
You must use some kind of source control. I recommend using GitHub as it will help to build the community around your project and generate contributions.
Mailing Lists & IRC
Next, setup a mailing list using Google Groups and create an IRC channel on the irc.freenode.net network. Now you have a way to communicate with your users and contributors!
Setup a Website
Once you have your identity, your code publicly available and a way to communicate with your users you need a website to organize all the information about your project. I recommend a blog, documentation, information about your community, how to contribute, how to download your code, release/download information, etc.
I think leveraging social networking is also a big part of connecting with your users. Create a Twitter account for your project and announce updates there. When you are developing and working on your project, be sure to let your users know what you are up to. Be active and passionate about what you do and your users will more likely connect with you and help contribute to building a great open source project.
Release Early and Release Often
In the early days of an open source project you need to release early and release often. The project is new, and the users know that so the project needs to show that it is active and moving fast in order for developers to consider using your project. As your project matures, and you have stable versions users can rely on, then you can consider throttling down the frequency of releases. Get your users new stuff fast!
After you have your project ground work done, you need to maintain your project and stay active. If you do not maintain your project, then it will die a slow death. Frequently write blog posts about new developments, new versions, updates to documentation, use cases and example tutorials, etc. This will get your users coming back to your site and seeing the new stuff you are working on and will be more likely to use and or contribute to your library.
I hope this helps someone with getting a new open source project off the ground or sparks someones interest to open source something today!