[Report] A new way of measuring Openness, from Android to WebKit: The Open Governance Index [Updated]

[Much has been said about open source projects – and open source platforms are now powering an ever-increasing share of the mobile market. But what is “open” and how can you measure openness? As part of our new research report (free download), VisionMobile Research Partner Liz Laffan introduces the Open Governance Index – a new approach to measuring the “openness” of software projects, from Android to WebKit]

Update: We have been amazed by the amount of interest to our Open Governance Index (OGI) report that we published just over two weeks ago. Our report was covered in mainstream media across Wired, ZDnet, PCPro, Gizmodo, ARS Technica, BGR, Zeit Online and ReadWrite Mobile. Our intention was to start a debate around ‘what’ openness is, ‘how’ it can be measured and ‘why’ it is important – and we certainly got the ball rolling!

Open Governance Index cover

Openness = governance

We at VisionMobile have been researching, investigating and helping to educate the industry about open source for the past five years.  In this time open source software has been transformed from geekware to business as usual. Much has been written and debated regarding open source licenses – from the early days of the GPL license to the modern days of the Android platform.

Despite the widespread use of open source, from Android to WebKit, there is one very important aspect that has been neglected: openness and how to measure it.

Openness goes far beyond the open source license terms and into what is termed Governance. While licenses determine the rights to use, copy and modify, governance determines the right to gain visibility, to influence and to create derivatives of a project, whether in the form of spin-offs, applications or devices. And while licenses apply to the source code, governance applies to the project or platform.  More importantly, the governance model describes the control points used in an open source project like Android, Qt or WebKit, and is a key determinant in the success or failure of a platform.

VisionMobile - Licensing vs. Governance Models

The governance model used by an open source project encapsulates all the hard questions. Who decides on the project roadmap? How transparent are the decision-making processes? Can anyone follow the discussions and meetings taking place in the community? Can anyone create derivatives based on the project? What compliance requirements are there for creating derivative spin-offs, applications or devices, and how are these requirements enforced?  It is governance that determines who has influence and control over the project or platform – beyond what is legally required in the open source license.

In today’s world of commercially-led mobile open source projects, it is not enough to understand the open source license used by a project. It is the governance model that makes the difference between an “open” and a “closed” project.

Measuring openness

Our research (free copy of full report here) showcases eight mobile open source projects: Android, MeeGo, Linux, Qt, WebKit, Mozilla, Eclipse and Symbian.  We selected these projects based on breadth of coverage; we picked both successful (Android) and unsuccessful projects (Symbian); both single-sponsor (Qt) and multi-sponsor projects (Eclipse); and both projects based on meritocracy (Linux) and membership status (Eclipse).

All of these are open source projects, whether platforms (Android, MeeGo, Qt, Symbian) or engines (Linux kernel, WebKit) or multi-project initiatives with a single, uniform governance. We appreciate that these projects are unique in many ways but they are all ultimately open source projects and to that extent our governance measures can be applied to them all equally. For example all of these projects have decision-making groups and processes that are directly comparable. In the Open Governance Index we attempted to document who these decision-makers are, how they operate, what processes are used to determine project decisions and how easily is to influence these project decisions.

Our research, carried out over a six-month period, included analysis of these popular open source projects, through discussions with community leaders, project representatives, academics and open source scholars. This research was partially funded by webinos, an EU-funded project under the EU FP7 programme, aiming to deliver a platform for web applications across mobile, PC, home media (TV) and in-car devices.

We quantified governance by introducing the Open Governance Index, a measure of open source project “openness”. The Index comprises thirteen metrics across the four areas of governance:

1. Access: availability of the latest source code, developer support mechanisms, public roadmap, and transparency of decision-making
2. Development: the ability of developers to influence the content and direction of the project
3. Derivatives: the ability for developers to create and distribute derivatives of the source code in the form of spin-off projects, handsets or applications.
4. Community: a community structure that does not discriminate between developers

The Open Governance Index quantifies a project’s openness, in terms of transparency, decision-making, reuse and community structure.

Does openness warrant success?

But what is it that makes an open source project successful? Why do some projects become an immediate success, while others barely get off the ground before crashing and burning? We know that just like commercial ventures, open source projects have different cultures and drivers – but we do believe that you should be able to measure the way that open source projects interact with the community of users and contributors that they build up around themselves.

Our research suggests that platforms that are most open will be most successful in the long-term. Eclipse, Linux, WebKit and Mozilla each testify to this.  In terms of openness, Eclipse is by far the most open platform across access, development, derivatives and community attributes of governance.  It is closely followed by Linux and WebKit, and then Mozilla, MeeGo, Symbian and Qt. Seven of the eight platforms reviewed fell within 30 percentage points of each other in the Open Governance Index.

Moreover, our research identified certain attributes that successful open source projects have.  These attributes are timely access to source code, strong developer tools, process transparency, accessibility to contributing code, and accessibility to becoming a committer.  Equal and fair treatment of developers – “meritocracy” – has become the norm, and is expected by developers with regard to their involvement in open source projects.

The Android Paradox

We found Android to be the most “closed” open source project. In the Open Governance Index, Android scores low with regard to timely access to source code in that the platform does not provide source code to all developers at the same time; it clearly prioritises access to specific developer groups or organisations and has acknowledged this with the delayed release of Honeycomb. Additionally Android scores low with regard to access to developer support mechanisms, publicly available roadmap, transparent decision-making processes, transparency of code contributions process, accessibility to become a committer (in that external parties cannot ‘commit’ code to the project) and constraints regarding go-to-market channels.

Android ranks as the most closed project, with an Open Governance Index of 23%, yet at the same time is one of the most successful projects in the history of open source. Is Android proof that open governance is not needed to warrant success in an open source project?

Android’s success may have little to do with the open source licensing of its public codebase. Android would not have risen to its current ubiquity were it not for Google’s financial muscle and famed engineering team. More importantly, Google has made Android available at zero cost, since Google’s core business is not software or search, but driving eyeballs to ads. As is now well understood, Google’s strategy has been to subsidise Android such that it can deliver cheap handsets and low-cost wireless Internet access in order to drive more eyeballs to Google’s ad inventory.

Equally importantly, Android would not have risen were it not for the billions of dollars that OEMs and network operators poured into Android in order to compete with Apple’s iconic devices. As Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO, said in June,2011, “Apple created the conditions necessary for Android”.

Moreover, our findings suggest that Android would be successful regardless of whether it is an open source project or not, to the extent that the vast majority of developers working on the project (the platform itself) are actually Google employees.

 Evolving the Open Governance Index

Having published the report, we aim to continue the discussion on governance, to refine our criteria even further and to make the OGI measure as meaningful as possible for the open source community. One of the first suggestions has been with regard to having a time dimension to the criteria i.e. does openness change over time. Mature open source projects such as Eclipse, Linux and WebKit that have stood the test of time, score quite highly with regard to openness of governance. But this has not always been the case. For example consider the following. Apple forked KHTML to create WebKit in the early 2000’s, releasing the first WebKit open source project in 2005 but with reviewer and commit rights restricted to Apple personnel only which effectively sidelined the KDE community. In 2007 however Apple reversed this decision allowing allow non-Apple developers to have full commit access to the WebKit source code version control system. This shows that openness can and does change over the project lifecycle.

Our vision for the Open Governance Index is to for it to be a robust, and as much as is possible, an objective measure of Governance for open source projects. We believe that this is necessary such that users and contributors to open source projects, including commercial entities, understand the means by which they can, or cannot, influence the direction and content of the project.

Download the full report for an in-depth analysis of the openness of Android, MeeGo, Linux, Qt, WebKit, Mozilla, Eclipse and Symbian. Drop us a line and tell us what you think.

– Liz

Addendum – Is copyleft more or less open?

We awarded a higher score to those licenses that are permissive and not copyleft licenses. Firstly it should be noted that all the licenses used by the eight mobile open source projects are Open Source Initiative (OSI) approved and meet the Open Source Initiative Definition, which provides for free redistribution of source code, access to source code and ability to create derived works amongst other requirements. We believe that the OSI is the appropriate arbiter of the appropriate Open Source License definition and all of the licenses used by the open source projects researched in this report meet this definition of being ‘open’.

However we also believe that from a commercial viewpoint there is still some concern about using code that is under a copyleft license – our experience of working with mobile software development organisations confirms this. Our findings suggest that organisations will be more comfortable using permissive licenses which do not mandate copyleft requirements and we reflect this in our criteria and scoring. We are happy to continue debating these findings further with the community. For example it has been suggested that the problem here is not with copyleft licenses but with the business model used by those organisations. Be that as it may, our experience is that this concern is still a valid one being expressed by many organisations, especially in the mobile device domain.

Finally we had a methodology typo which unfortunately survived the proof reading: assigning a bonus to “copyright assignment”. We fully acknowledge that copyright assignment is unnecessary – indeed we state this in our analysis of Qt whereby we acknowledge copyright assignment as inappropriate and a heavy-handed requirement.

[Liz Laffan is a Research Partner at VisionMobile. Liz has been working in the telecoms and mobile industry for over 20 years, with large telco organisations, start-up technology ventures, software development and licensing firms.  Liz’s interests lie in open source software governance and licensing and in particular how best can commercial organisations interact with open source projects.  She can be reached at liz [at] visionmobile.com]

Platforms 101: Not all mobile platforms are created equal

[The term ‘platform’ is used for describing things as diverse as social networks, web browsers, on-line retailers and open source software. VisionMobile Research Partner Michael Vakulenko delves into the platform economics to uncover why not all platforms are born equal.]
Platforms 101: Not all mobile platforms are created equal
The term “platform” is clearly over-used to the point of losing its meaning. In reality, there are many different types of platforms, each having distinct business models, modus operandi, strengths and weaknesses.Focusing on mobile devices, we can distinguish between three main platform types: software platforms, application platforms and communication platforms. Making a clear distinction between platform types offers valuable insights into competitive dynamics between mobile platforms, including iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Phone.

Since different platforms types have very different origins and purpose, it is close to impossible to evolve one platform type to another. And while platforms can be compared in terms of adoption, direct comparisons of platforms of different types is like comparing oranges to apples.

Platform type Purpose Primary audience Network effects Examples
Software platform Sharing of software development costs and risks Device makers None Symbian, BREW
Application platform Connecting app developers and users
(and handset OEM in some cases)
Developers – Users to developers
– Users to users
– Developers to developers
Android, iOS, Windows Phone
Communication platform Facilitating communication between users Users – Users to users Telephone, fax, BlackBerry Messenger

Software platforms

A software platform is a common software stack that is used for developing multiple products. As such, software platforms are optimised for flexibility and sharing of development costs when building products based on the same technology foundations. The technology platform approach is also used in other industries such as the automotive or construction industries. Many open source projects have evolved into successful software platforms, such as Webkit, Apache and Linux operating system.

Symbian is a characteristic example of a software platform. Symbian Ltd. was established by Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola in 1999 for the purpose of sharing the costs of building a mobile software operating system. The Symbian software stack was subsequently used by these handset makers as a basis for wide range of mobile devices introduced in the last decade. Symbian is still the most widely deployed mobile platform ever with over 480 million devices shipped up until Q2 2011. As a software platform, Symbian has been optimised for flexibility in customizations by handset makers and mobile operators.

Symbian served its purpose quite well until Apple changed the basis for competition by introducing a different kind of a platform. Applications, developers and app stores suddenly became more important than serving OEM needs. Changing design focus of the platform proved to be impossible for Symbian and Nokia.  Changing the license terms to open source only  further sidetracked the platform.

Application platforms

Application platforms, often also referred to as computing platforms, are designed from the ground up for connecting two disjoint markets: users and application developers. Application platforms are a special case of so called two-sided networks, in which platform owners extract value by allowing members of disjoint markets to transact through the platform. Two-sided networks describe businesses as diverse as dating agencies (match.com), credit cards (VISA), stock exchanges (NYSE) and digital media formats (Blue-ray).Application platforms live and die on the applications built for these platforms. Users consume applications to satisfy a wide spectrum of needs, from word processing to killing time. Since applications are locked to the platform, users need to obtain the platform in order to benefit from applications. Microsoft Windows is a classic example of a successful application platform.

Since application developers drive adoption of a application platform, the platform is only as successful as the developers who build apps for the platform. Even though the number of apps is frequently considered as an ultimate measure of application platform success, it’s really the long-term health and sustainability of the developer ecosystem that will determine if developer investment will sustain, grow or decline.

Application compatibility is the key success factor for a application platform; applications must work unchanged on different variants and versions of the platform (imagine if Microsoft Office would only run on Dell computers). Raymond Chen’s blog on the New Old Thing offers a flavour of the lengths that Microsoft went into ensuring application compatibility.

When a application platform reaches a critical mass of developers, applications and users, it starts to grow exponentially. This is because of network effects, i.e. a positive feedback loops between users and applications, users and users, and developers and developers. Applications attract users, which motivate developers to create more applications, which attract more users, which attract more developers, and so forth. From the end-user perspective each new application adds value to the platform. From an application developer perspective, a platform becomes more valuable with each and every new user.
VisionMobile Blog: Apple Network Effects
The self-sustaining nature of network effects in the application platform is akin to wildfire: The first burning trees generate enough heat to ignite more trees, that generate more heat, that ignites more trees, and so on.Application platforms have another very important property: The ability to attract external investment by developers. For example, given 400,000 iOS applications and a modest estimation of a $30,000 of development cost per “simple” application, developers, investors and brands have invested over $12 Billion into iOS platform. All this investment has directly contributed to the value that iOS brings in the eyes of users and developers.

Apple iOS set a gold standard for a mobile application platform. It’s hardly surprising that iOS comes from a company with decades of experience in personal computing. iOS is end-to-end optimised for nurturing and reinforcing network effects between users and developers. With each of over 400,000 apps adding to the reasons to buy an iOS device, Apple reported all-time record revenue and earnings for Q2 2011.

For now, Google’s Android is the only close competitor to iOS. Google comes from a background of advertising platforms. An advertising platform is also a special case of a two-sided network connecting two disjoint markets of on-line users and advertisers. It’s hardly a surprise that Android has been designed from the ground up as a free application platform, which is monetised by driving traffic to Google on-line advertising services.

Communication platforms

Communication platforms are designed to facilitate communication between people. Examples are telephone networks, email, fax, and social networks (Myspace). Communication platforms also exhibit network effects: Every new user makes the network more valuable for other users.

BlackBerry has the history and DNA of a communication platform. It was originally designed to extend an email communication platform to the mobile domain. BlackBerry exploits network effects of the email platform and creates value on top of it by improving  the availability and usability of email communications.

Once the BlackBerry email platform reached significant scale in 2005, RIM introduced a proprietary communication platform, BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) service. BBM is a proprietary instant messaging service that uses the BlackBerry PIN programed in the device to identify users. In other words, someone needs a BlackBerry device to join the social network formed around BBM. It’s like a members-only club for BlackBerry users.

Because of the narrow focus on communication needs, the user-to-user network effects in the BlackBerry communication platform are weaker than those in iOS and Android. Moreover, the benefits of mobile email and mobile instant messaging are no longer exclusive to BlackBerry. Mobile email is used today by 80% of US phone subscribers, and multi-platform mobile messengers such as Whatsapp, Kik and KakaoTalk are quickly gaining in popularity, each amassing audiences of millions of users.

So how does RIM remain competitive? RIM needs to evolve BlackBerry into an application platform. So far, the company has not been successful in achieving this goal. On the contrary, given the direction and speed of innovation of BlackBerry platform, RIM’s chances to achieve this goal looks less and less promising.

Much like Symbian, changing platform focus on the fly proved to be extremely difficult for RIM. Moreover, replacing the legacy BlackBerry OS with the “high-performance” QNX operating system will not make much of a difference. It could even make things worse by making the platform even more fragmented and confusing developers with multiple development alternatives.

Platforms are not born equal

Mobile application platforms will always have significant advantages over software and communication platforms. Mobile application platforms exhibit multiple, self-reinforcing network effects, user lock-in and the ability to attract external investment.

Nokia stood not only on a burning platform, but also on the wrong kind of a platform, trying to reinvent the Symbian software platform as an application platform. The self-reinforcing network effects of iOS and Android application platforms are much stronger than Nokia’s scale and distribution power. The stark contrast between the Q2 2011 Nokia and Apple quarterly results is excellent example of the power of application platforms.

On the contrary, Windows Phone, Nokia’s only hope to get back into smartphone game, has all the characteristics of an application platform: from application compatibility to the steadfast commitment towards app developers. Application platforms are bread and butter for Microsoft. Yet, the jury is still out on whether Microsoft will be able to grow Windows Phone into a credible competitor to iOS and Android.

It is very difficult to displace leading application platforms like iOS and Android which are protected by self-reinforcing network effects and user lock-in (think of firefighters trying to contain large-scale wildfires). It is not enough to be marginally better. To win, Windows Phone will need to offer users and developers something radically new, over and above the current leaders. Only time will tell if Microsoft will be able to achieve that by combining the resources of Skype, the partnership with Nokia and the relationship with Facebook.

Platforms will continue to be a central theme in the evolution of mobile ecosystem. It will only become more interesting with the recent entry of Facebook (social platform) and Amazon (retailing platform) into the mobile scene.

– Michael

[Michael Vakulenko is a Research Partner at VisionMobile, where he focuses on mobile platform research. Michael has been working in the mobile industry for over 16 years, starting his career in wireless in Qualcomm. Michael has a broad experience across many aspects of the mobile industry, including smartphone ecosystems, mobile services, handset software, wireless chipsets and network infrastructure. He can be reached at michael [/at/] visionmobile.com]

Want to know more about mobile platform strategies and economics? See our Software Economics in a Telecoms World, an executive, 360° seminar on how the telecoms industry is being disrupted by the new software economics.

[Infographic] The Mobile Platform Race – How do mobile platforms stack up?

We’re proud to present our latest infographic, The Mobile Platform Race, showcasing some of the most important findings and insights from our Developer Economics 2011 report (free download here).

Developer Economics is the definitive report on mobile developers, apps and brands going mobile. Developer Economics was created by VisionMobile and sponsored by BlueVia. We hope you enjoy the infographic – and feel free to embed it in your own website. Comments welcome, as always.

Feel free to copy the infographic and embed it in your website.

Developer Economics 2011
600 pixels wide version

760 pixels wide version

1000 pixels wide version

[sociable_code]

The Guide to Building Developer Communities

[Developers are currently the hottest property in the mobile industry. Tens of developer programs have sprung up, aiming to woo developers.  However, besides Apple, Google and perhaps Microsoft, other developer programs have had at best a lukewarm response. Guest author Gyanee Dewnarain investigates what makes developers tick and the faux-pas to avoid.]

The Guide to Building Developer Communities

Have you been ramping up your developer marketing efforts lately with a view to attracting more developers to your programme? How are your efforts faring? Let’s have a look at what works and what does not.

First and foremost – who to target?

Before you set out on your quest, it is important to know who you are targeting. We have all come across the perennial cliché of a developer as being the unshaven geeky guy with long hair and sandals. This image is outdated: developers nowadays are a rapidly expanding community that includes software engineers (architects, implementers, discoverers, thinkers, inventors) within small, medium and large enterprises, hobbyists or indie developers (working on open source or proprietary software), high school kids aspiring to go to MIT, commissioned developers, brands developing  B2C apps, system integrators targeting B2B apps, investors funding mobile development and 100s of start-ups.

Each developer segment has varying goals and incentives and the ways of engaging with them vary too. It pays to do your research first and understand who you are targeting and how to do so. However, irrespective of the segment you are targeting, there are a few key ingredients (so-called hygiene factors) that need to be in place in your developer program for the greatest chances of success. These hygiene factors are covered extensively in VisionMobile’s Developer Economics 2010 and 2011 reports. This post focuses more on developer marketing strategies and tactics.

First Impressions Matter

The first step in a developer marketing program is to create a solid first impression. Developers expect you to invest considerable effort in the way you present your tools, APIs and documentation to them as well as the way you present their applications to your customers. This is a competitive marketplace and if you want to stand any chance of getting noticed, your offering needs to stand out from the other developer programs which are vying for developers’ attention.

It is equally very important that your messaging and your branding are consistent across all your digital assets – website, blog, storefront etc. If your branding and messaging is confused, developers’ confidence in your developer program will erode rapidly.

Developers also have an aversion to long, convoluted, legal terminologies; don’t make them read and sign long T&C’s before they can access any of the exciting stuff (code, APIs, tools and documentation). Second opportunities come seldom in this market.

The “coolness” factor

Developers like cool companies (think slide, smoothie bar, collectable pins) and cool brands and if you appear stuck-up, they will run a mile. If you want to engage with them, you have to think about the image you and your company project – you have to speak their language and dress like them. The language on your website should be simple and straightforward (cut back the marketing blurb).

While more technically inclined, developers still like devices which have mass market appeal (both from the perspective of personal interest and also from the perspective of user reach and revenue generation). Engage with other brands and channels to increase the desirability of your device, your storefront or your cloud platform.

In addition, make sure that your products are able to get developers excited (from the development tools, emulators and documentation through the storefront to the actual devices that you are selling in the market).

Encourage openness and interaction

Do not bind your developers into contracts and NDAs that forbid them from sharing useful hints and tips. Even Apple realised the mistake it was making by preventing discussions amongst its developers and had to retract its NDA three months after the launch of its iPhone developer program. You should encourage your developers to share their experiences, best practices and code snippets by creating places and opportunities for them to meet and interact with each other.

Online forums, blogs, mailing lists (both on your own website and on popular 3rd party fan websites) are must-haves. Such communication amongst developers helps build a sense of community.   Developer events are equally de rigueur in any developer program. Your events should ideally favour hands-on code oriented tutorials and workshops as opposed to marketing presentations.

Learn the art of listening

Building communities means extending bridges. The mantra is – communicate, communicate, communicate; whether it’s through one to one e-mails, social media, developer forums or third party developer events. Keep in touch with your most loyal developers, as much as you can, and in a personalised manner. Formulate your message in such a way that you make them feel important; the focus should not be on your company but on them.

The worst thing you can do is have a big developer bash and disappear off the radar for a while. That might have worked a few years back but in the current market, with everyone competing for your developers’ attention, if you do not constantly keep in touch, someone else will snatch your developers away in the blink of an eye.

Honesty is the best policy

Changes to existing APIs and introduction of new APIs are a natural part of software development. However, be as transparent as you can with your developer community. Inform them about the changes that you have made to your APIs and try to have a sensible upgrade path so that there are no rude awakenings. Ensure compatibility with previous versions; this would show that you are respectful of the time and effort that developers are committing to your program.  Despite facing a lot of criticism with regards to fragmentation risks across its multiple releases, Google has gone to great lengths to explain API updates to new Android releases.

Share your vision of the future

Sharing your vision for the future is a critical part of engaging with developers. It is therefore essential that you communicate the rationale behind your business strategies, technology decisions (e.g. moving from native to web) and the future direction of your program very clearly to your developer following.  Endeavour to provide your developers with the opportunity to provide their feedback, comments and suggestions. Arguably, developer programs such as BONDI and JIL failed due to their inability to communicate any tangible vision to developers. Unfortunately, WAC seems to be following a similar path.

Favour substance over style

If your platform does not ship; if your tools look good but do not deliver;  if your code samples are too difficult to learn and use, your developers will churn to greener pastures. This means:

  • If you are going down the route of having your own platform, then you have to ensure that the tools that you provide are easy to learn and your programming paradigms enable quick coding and prototyping.
  • Provide APIs that are rich and that offer developers the opportunity to go the extra mile in creating truly innovative applications. These could include select hardware APIs (that are normally hidden) and in some cases network APIs such as billing, location, user profile etc.
  • Provide debuggers and emulators that are fast and provide accurate target device mirroring.
  • Make sure that your development environment includes an app porting framework and solid emulator integration.
  • Choice is good – provide options for advanced use cases for example both a basic command line text editor and a web based IDE.

Moreover, if you get lethargic and do not constantly look at ways of evolving your tools, being innovative with your business models, and seeking newer markets, boredom is likely to set in and your developers may start looking at other alternatives. Therefore, continuously check how your program is faring against competition. Several operators dismissed Apple and Google for more than 2 years until it was too late to figure out a positioning strategy.

Bridges to developers need constant maintenance

You’ll need to set aside a significant budget to finance various types of seed programs as well as developer competitions. Seed programs include many incentives for developing such as:

  • Releasing early builds of your platform/ SDK version to developers, both to get feedback about bugs and other issues as well as to give developers lead time to test software or experiment with adding new features.
  • Commissioning developers to develop apps specifically for your platform or port existing apps from other platforms.
  • Fast tracking the certification of apps for a select group of your target developers (especially useful when you need to get an app ported from a competitive platform to your own)
  • Distribution of free reference hardware or commercial devices to your installed base of developers in order to build loyalty.

Show me the money

Many of the developers that you want onboard (especially those with a commercial role) want to see a return on their investment. From the outset, it should be clear in your own mind how your developers are going to make money from their apps and you should communicate this in a very clear manner to them – what are the devices that you support, how many people are using those devices, how do they get their apps on those devices, how do customers find, download and pay for the apps and how, when and how much do developers get paid.

The other thing to note is that developers are smart and discerning consumers who will fact-check you before they can trust you – make sure you have the figures to back your marketing assertions.

One of the critical issues facing developers currently is “discovery” of their apps by customers. The developer programs which come up with the most original ideas to improve discovery and present new business models for increased monetisation are likely to gain traction with the largest number of developers.

Casual settings work better

When socialising with your developers, small informal events work much better than large formal conferences. Make sure that the developers and software engineers from within your company get the opportunity to interact with each and every developer, answering their questions, listening to their issues, encouraging them to interact regularly and share experiences and difficulties. So far, BlueVia has been amongst the operator developer programs that have most successfully embraced this philosophy by holding small developer events in pubs around London.

Jump onto the social bandwagon – Facebook It, Tweet It

Studies show that over 60% of people within the 15-35 age group (and that includes the vast majority of your developers) spend on average 20 hours per month on social networking websites. This is where you are likely to find them and this is the medium they will use to spread the word about you if they like you enough (viral marketing). Social media is where you need to advertise your events, inform developers about the availability of the latest release of your SDK or the latest device you are planning to launch.

Locate your Evangelists

Find out who are the people who believe in your platform – the fans, the early adopters– the people who would be willing to fly the flag for you. Check the people who write favourable blog posts about you, who comment on your blog posts, tweets, participate in your forums and Facebook or LinkedIn discussion groups. Approach them and provide them further incentives to spread the good word.

Developers listen to their fellow developers – therefore, get your early adopter developers to talk about how easy it is to create apps using your APIs and SDKs and how fast it is to certify the apps and get them published.

Reward your successful developers – promote their apps in the media, ask them to come and talk about their success stories at your events; publish their success stories on your website and in your marketing collaterals; encourage them to publish stats about number of downloads and the amount of money they’ve made.

Putting it all together

In summary – decide who you want to target, make sure the hygiene factors are in place, keep your messaging and branding consistent, keep legal blurb to a minimum, be a cool brand, encourage your developers to share experiences and best practices, value feedback from your developers, be transparent about changes to APIs and code, communicate your vision and roadmap, provide high quality tools that are on par with competitive offerings,  prepare to invest, show developers the return on their investment, interact frequently with your developers preferably via small informal events and via social networks, locate and draw upon your evangelists and last but not least, reward your successful developers.  Many have tried and many have failed over the years. Sometimes, a few decisions can make or break your program. Be quick to learn both from the failures and the success stories!

Happy Community Building!

– Gyanee

[A mobile technology aficionado, Gyanee Dewnarain has 8 years’ experience working within the international telecoms business environment. Gyanee has worked for a host of companies within the mobile industry ranging from consortia (LiMo Foundation) and start-ups (Carrier IQ) to large corporations (Gemalto and Alcatel). Prior to that, Gyanee was involved with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and co-chaired the ITU Youth Forum in Johannesburg. Gyanee holds an MSc in Telecommunications with Distinction from University College London (UCL). She can be reached at gyanee.dewnarain (at) gmail.com]