Sunday, March 11, 2007

SXSW: Non-Developers to Open Source Acolytes: Tell Me Why I Care

The panel went really well. The audience was engaged and asked great questions. We were told the session will be podcast. You can also subscribe the conference podcast feed:

Elisa Camahort of BlogHer moderated the panel that included me, Annalee Newitz ( and Dawn Foster (Open Culture).

I didn't have slides, but I did take some notes for myself in preparation for the talk. Although we didn't address these issues so linerally in the talk, I thought it would be great to post them anyway.


I approach the question of customer service from 2 perspectives:
my role as a sys admin and project manager for my organization
staff users

My role (admin)
-I ask how easy is the software to install and configure; what impact will it have on server maintenance (cron jobs?, patching?, backups?)
-Do I have the resources to hire a programmer? Open source software still requires time, money, expertise, documentation

Staff role (user)
-Does the software get the job done, open source or not?
-Does it have a good interface? Is there an ease of use?
-Self-sufficiency? Can users look up answers themselves when troubleshooting?

Examples of proprietary software we are using: Regonline

**Customer support - Best case scenario using open source solution like Wordpress and Drupal
1) Friendly community, includes developers and users
- helpful feedback, not just RTFM
2) Quality documentation
- Easy to find answers; doesn't need to be in manual format
- In plain language
- Clear, concise code examples
3) No need for phone support if the information I need is available online
- Phone support (when its good) is a *fabulous* benefit of proprietary software, however it doesn't guarantee better support

Q: PRO's/CON's of doing Open Source

1) Flexibility
- There is a potential to 'over customize' which can lead to a complex upgrade path that becomes difficult to maintain over time
-Proprietary solutions limit customization options; benefit from upgrade path being the responsibility of the vendor

2) Open Source is the preferred solution of our industry
- 'our industry' is nonprofit, advocacy organizations
- We are a social change organization, not a software company. The technology is sexy and we could easily get distracted and develop technology for technology's sake. We can't over think implementation. Keep it simple, make it work, move on to the next issue.
- When using a proprietary solution implmentation is a consideration only when we think about integration issues (How much will it cost us to get the proprietary solution to talk to the other, assuming its possible?)

- Using an open source solution we still need a project manager, systems adminstrator, designer, and coder
- ASP solution our staff person only needs to interact with an account manager
- For proprietary solutions that would require us to host our own softwar we'd still need a sys admin to maintain the software

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