The Blessings of Synchronised Releases

The open source world is currently debating the merits – if any – of synchronising the release schedules of several of the bigger, key projects that make up a Linux distribution. The discussion was started by Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth, and continued as a back and forth between the Ubuntu leader and KDE’s Aaron Seigo, but of course other members of the community discussed right along on blogs and other venues. Sander, developer of Coccinella (an open-source Jabber client) provides some insights into the whole discussion.

“What do Stevenotes and Windows launch events have in common?” Sander wonders, “Yes, they both result into a flood of publicity. When Steve Jobs speaks, pregnant women’s magazines write about it. When Microsoft spends a little money, the television journal will show us impressive fireworks that make New Year’s Eve look like a non-event. All media eagerly report about these happenings!” I can personally attest for the amount of power these events have, which go far beyond a mere mention on the news. In The Netherlands, the quite popular early evening talkshow De Wereld Draait Door became the centre of the Windows Vista marketing blitz, and with that, the centre of a minor controversy. The show was more or less a company presentation by Microsoft, which is rather unusual for Dutch public television (for a quick rundown of The Netherlands’ intricate media landscape, read this entry on my personal weblog).

This caused quite the stir, since the Dutch media, and the tax-funded ones in particular, are bound by certain rules and regulations to ensure tax money isn’t wasted. It was said that the show in question about Vista had broken these rules, but the government body overseeing the media landscape, in the end, decided this wasn’t the case, and didn’t impose any penalties.

Still, it is clear that Firefox, Ubuntu, Apache, or whatever other volunteer-based open-source project is not going to be able to use Dutch television, or any other country’s television for that matter, as a platform for such a product presentation. According to Sander, the open source world shouldn’t strive for that – it should leverage its strongest asset: the community. By synchronising release schedules, the open-source world can create a sort of publicity wave among the web.

Community is in what we excel; our key strategic advantage. To repeat the marketing success of Apple and Microsoft we need to leverage the community. Massive synchronized releasing is the perfect tool to achieve this leverage. By synchronizing, release related marketing efforts of multiple communities are focused at the same moment and can leverage each other. The rhythm of so much projects doing their marketing efforts at the same moment will shake the Internet. I’m sure the pregnant women’s magazine and the television journal will feel these shakes…

Beating Apple and Microsoft, marketing-wise, on their own turf is going to be quite difficult. Microsoft’s pockets are always deeper, and the open source world doesn’t (seem to) have a Steve Jobs and a devoted clapping crowd. As such, it makes perfect sense to focus on what you do have: a technically adept community with lots of blogs, IM friends, irc access, and so on. What do you think?


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