HowTo: Promote Your Free/Open Source Contributions

How do you get others to acknowledge your organization’s contributions in the free/open source ecosystem? How do you earn a reputation for using and developing high-quality software? The first step is to set up a simple web page listing your organization’s contributions. In this article I will describe the contribution pages of HP and Cisco and what elements need to be on your organization’s contribution page.

Why Participate and Collaborate with a FOSS Organization?

HP’s goal is to provide clients with high quality business systems that support hundreds of users and they rely on free/open source software to deliver on their promises. This is why they participate in these organizations, so they can guide the development of software and ensure that the quality is high. They provide some funding so that the core developers of their software can focus on improving that software.

Cisco’s goal is to provide the best networking solutions for clients. They too understand that they’re building upon solid foundations to provide these solutions and they contribute back. They realize that it reduces their time-to-market for their products.

Examples of Contribution Pages

HP Open Source

Take a look at the HP Open Source page:

open source and linux at the HP website
open source and linux at the HP website

The HP Open Source page lists the free/open source organizations that they participate in and collaborate with to, it lists them with a direct link to the organization’s website. They also list events that they sponsor.

Cisco Open Source

Now take a look at the Cisco Open Source page:

Cisco’s page lists blog posts about their most recent contributions and why they do it:

Open Source - Doing Business With Cisco - Cisco Systems - Google Chrome_2013-03-03_18-06-54
open source contributions of cisco

Cisco collaborates with the open source community to reduce time-to-market for Cisco solutions, and to help partners develop applications designed to enhance the collaborative experience.

open source communities web page on the Cisco systems site
open source communities web page on the Cisco systems site

Cisco has another page where they list their sponsorships and the free/open source organizations that they participate in and collaborate with. There are a few sentences describing each community/organization and either a specific contribution made by Cisco or why that organization is important to them. They also include direct links to those organizations.

A Template For Your Own Organization’s Contributions Page

Here’s what your organization’s contribution page should include:

  • Free/open source communities and foundations that your organization participates and collaborates with
    • include direct links to the community or foundation’s home page
    • include a short description, taken from their website or of your own wording
    • highlight any sponsorships and donations made to the community or foundation
  • Projects that your organization has contributed code or documentation to:
    • a short description of the project
    • a direct link to the project’s home page
    • if there are blog posts about the project on your organization’s blog, include links to them
  • Conferences and hackathons that have been sponsored
    • a short description of conference (when and where it took place or when it will take place in the future)
    • a direct link to the conference page
  • If your organization has a developer-oriented blog, include a link to it
  • If there are blog posts, news articles or press releases from around the web that highlight your contributions, mention them and link directly to them. Mentions in newspapers or popular tech blogs should be listed first
  • If your organization hosts a wiki, link to it

Don’t worry if your organization has only made a few contributions; every contribution counts when you’re building your brand and reputation for only using the best quality software to deliver products and services to customers and clients.

Do not mention the dollar amount of any donations on the page or how much it cost to sponsor a conference or hackathon. This isn’t necessary and it can tarnish your brand by making it look as if you care more about dollar amounts rather than the real value that the software you use contributes back to your organization. It can also look as if it places the dollar amount above the amount of effort that other developers have put into working on the software.

Examples of Implementing the Template

Example #1: Open Imagination Source Inc.

Let’s take a look at applying this template with an imaginary organization called Open Imagination Source Inc.

Here are the facts (in italics are facts included on their contributions page):

  • Developed two free/open source software projects  of their own that use the Python programming language: CoolSite and AwesomeTool
  • Based a project on someone else’s work (using the Django web framework) and modified it to meet their needs: CollaboratePlus is based on Collaborate
  • Sponsored a trip for their developers to attend two conferences in 2012: DjangoCon 2012 and PyCon 2012
  • They have donated $1,000 to the Python foundation
  • They have paid $6,577 in license fees for proprietary software
  • They use Microsoft Office for internal documents
  • They use wiki software for external technical documentation
  • They use wiki software for internal technical documentation
  • They have a developer blog

Here’s how their website would look (excuse how plain it looks, the point is to demonstrate which information is included on their contributions page):

example of open imagination source inc using the contribution template
example of open imagination source inc using the contribution template

There is no mention of the dollar amount that was donated to the Python foundation, and there is no mention of any proprietary software that is being used.

Notice that they link to the new project, CollaboratePlus, also links to the project it’s based on, Collaborate, and offers a compliment.

They link to their developer blog twice and include some of the blog posts that mention the trips that they sponsored for their developers to take in 2012. There’s no need to highlight the specific conferences in a separate list on the page unless they were sponsoring the conferences.

They do not mention which wiki software they’re using because that’s usually linked to on the wiki itself. They only need to mention that they have public documentation available for their projects and link to the wiki.

Example #2: Imaginary-Mart

Let’s take a look at applying this template with an imaginary chain of retail stores. I’m using retail stores as an example because there may be a lot of free/open source software being relied on in the background that typically isn’t mentioned to the public. The reason for highlighting this is again to demonstrate that the company knows what they’re doing and is relying on the highest quality software to deliver whatever product or service they’re marketing to clients and customers.

Here are the facts for Imaginary-Mart (in italics are facts included on their contributions page):

  • They use free/open source software for their inventory management system and checkout process in their physical stores and their ecommerce site
  • They have developed an API for their site and sponsored a hackathon to use that API (this is a very real possibility: Campbell’s Soup for example sponsored a hackathon to use their soup-oriented API!)
  • The hackathon that they sponsored cost them $10,000 to host and cater
  • The hackathon took place in London and was reported on by the Guardian newspaper and was featured on the tech news blog TechCrunch
  • They have not contributed any code to the inventory management system
  • They have written publicly available documentation for using the checkout software in their physical stores
  • They do not have a blog

The following picture is how they would implement the template.Notice that not all of the facts are used or only part of them are. For example, the cost of sponsoring the hackathon is only of interest internally to Imaginary-Mart, but blog posts about the event or articles in local news papers highlighting the event are of interest both internally and externally and highlight their contribution.

Example of Using the Contribution Page Template: Imaginary-Mart
Example of Using the Contribution Page Template: Imaginary-Mart.

The last two facts seem contradictory. How can Imaginary-Mart contribute documentation without hosting it themselves on their own website? Typically, most FOSS projects have a wiki or some other location for documentation to be hosted. The links on Imaginary-Mart’s website will be direct links to those pages.


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