Improving Gentoo’s PR

This won’t be a long post, because I’m tired. Sorry for the dearth of posts on here, but I’ve been busy writing other things—see below.

For anyone who hasn’t heard, I took over as lead of Gentoo’s public relations efforts a little over two weeks ago. Three days earlier, I wrote an LWN article concluding that Gentoo isn’t falling apart, but it’s totally failing to communicate. After writing that article, I realized that somebody had to step up to deal with this problem—who better than me?

My focus right now is showing people that Gentoo development is just as alive as it’s ever been. I’m doing this by opening windows into development through more frequent news postings, with links to discussion forums to respond to the posts. Doing this, combined with writing to people (“You will”) rather than about them (saying “Users will…”), will help build better relationships with our users.

Another part of improving the perception of a lively, active community is updating the look of our website. The old website redesign never made it to fruition, so a few of us have begun taking a look at how far it got, what happened, and what to do now. At a minimum, I’d like to make some slight changes to give our site a face lift. The design hasn’t changed for 6 years now, and it shows.

One major, easily fixable problem with our website is that there’s no obvious place to go for users who want to contribute. There should be a big “Get involved!” or “Help Gentoo!” link right up at the top of the page, next to “Get Gentoo!” All this requires is a little webpage that describes all the ways people can help. In fact, the whole website isn’t task-oriented enough. This needs to change.

In the future, I’m going to begin improving the “press” aspect of PR, based on my notes from an excellent talk by Josh Berkus at OSCON 2006 on public relations for OSS projects. The main ideas here are providing a press kit for reporters with all the basic info they want, building relationships with local reporters by using local Gentoo contacts, putting together some case studies of people and businesses using Gentoo in interesting ways, and improving our process for creating and posting news and press releases.

Finally, any Gentoo users can help improve Gentoo by simply advocating it to Linux users you know, giving demos and talks at Linux user group meetings or conferences, promoting it in articles, or writing in your blog about something Gentoo does really well.

BarCamp PDX: Collaboration in Communities session

Dawn Foster, one of the BarCamp PDX organizers, is facilitating this discussion. She’s interested in how people build communities.

How is collaboration changing within communities? Moving from mailing lists, newsgroups to blogs, wikis, forums …

Face to face (F2F) interactions build more trust than you get online.

How to bring non-technologists into online communities? Knitting is one of the biggest of these.

People treat each other differently F2F than online. Educating newer generations in social norms, cultural differences, etc all play a role.

How do you find forums moderators, e.g.? Let people who might want to contribute know where you need help. Not just technical but someone to set the expectations for community norms. Important to create a sub-community for the moderators.

Communities self-organize their structures more than being placed into a hierarchy.

Network weaving: intentionally creating tighter and more connections within groups. People apparently do this for a living?

Building a strong community, from a corporate standpoint (or any project), means that people have got your backs when bad PR comes up. Give trust to your community, and they’ll reciprocate. Companies have done this forever as product advisory councils, which also provides a beta testbed.

Building an internal corporate community is required before you can build a strong external community. And letting your internal engineers or whatever hear real customers firsthand sometimes makes the difference. Connect the creators to the users.

Business models move more toward ecosystems and away from your traditional corporate structure. Away from a two-state system and toward a spectrum — no longer just producer vs consumer.

When do bloggers become marketers? Are they still impartial if some company pays them to blog about its products? Does it matter?

More stuff. Funny relevant comic at http://xkcd.com/c256.html

Why Gentoo?

I just came across another good post on why it’s worthwhile to use Gentoo, if not permanently, at least temporarily. Kathy Sierra posted on the Passionate Users blog about the inverse relationship between efficiency of your tool and your understanding of what it does. The more autoconfiguration there is, the harder it is for you to figure out what to do when you’ve got a setup that doesn’t autoconfigure.

A commenter on that post pointed to an earlier Joel Spolsky (Joel on Software) post on leaky abstractions—in other words, an incomplete, simplified metaphor that sometimes breaks down. When you don’t understand both sides of the metaphor, you can’t figure out why everything’s busted.

In the same way, automated tools suck. They’re great once you understand the black box they hide from you, but ignoring that black box entirely is a route to disaster. That’s why you should try Gentoo, or LFS, or some similar DIY distro that gives you the opportunity to understand what all those fancy GUI tools really do. Someday, they’ll break. Will you survive, or will you take your toys and go home?