Friday, November 17, 2006

Why open source: viral marketing and visibility

The second most asked question I get, when I talk about Funambol, is "why open source" (the first one being "how do you make money?"...).

I believe I have spent few posts writing about the value of a community-driven development and, in particular, QA effort. The former being the best way to innovate and keep up with the unbelievable speed of the mobile market (linked to the Code Sniper program). The latter being the crucial element for a successful company in mobile, because it is simply impossible to test every phone on the market, if you are a proprietary company (this one linked to the Phone Sniper program).

Speed of development and innovation, combined with the widest device compatibility, high quality and support are not the only positive of open source. The other one is marketing and visibility.

Open Source is viral. If you build an open protocol open platform product with open source code (a GOOD one) and you are honest with your community, you will have a large audience. The audience will be a mix of developers and users. They will enhance it, create derivative products or simply use it. In all cases, they will simply talk about it. Blog about it. Whisper about it.

Below you see the graph taken from Alexa (which measures web sites traffic rankings) about the Funambol site, compared to the one of our competitors (although some of them are not really competitors, since they are focused on enterprises). We are the blue line...

We are a small company of 40+ people, which raised 5M in Venture Capital. Some of those in the graph are public, some raised 250M+, all have been around for ages. How can we be that much more popular than them?

It is called viral marketing. It is a phenomenal added benefit of open source. It will never stop, as long as you remain true to your open source roots and do not screw up your community. You can be public and spend millions in marketing, but you will never get that. You get it if you create a successful open source project. And it will cost you zero dollars.

Believe me, it is not easy. But once you get there, it feels good to look at that graph every morning and at our balance sheet at night ;-)