Online communities are all the rage, but just like in the real world, online communities can be warm welcoming neighborhoods or cold, haughty gated communities.
Connie Benson at the Marketing 2.0 Blog has a good post on the importance of a community manager in keeping a company connected to its users. But the community manager themselves are limited by how motivated the community participants are.
It is extraordinary to me how low energy most enterprise software company communities are. With the examples of vibrant communities at MySQL and Spring, you would think that companies like Oracle and IBM could follow suit.
I think the real rub here is that it is hard to have a vibrant community with a closed-source product. Maybe this was possible in the olden days, with certain fanatical user products like Borland's Delphi. But increasingly, open sourcing a product is a prerequisite for obtaining an engaged community.
This sets up a contrast between open communities, where anyone can participate with little or no effort, and gated communities like IBM's labyrinth of interlocking forums, where just creating a user account is a daunting, 15-20 minute exercise.
In the week since the launch of WaveMaker 4, we have gotten 20,000 downloads and over 1,000 new members registered into the WaveMaker community. Now comes the hard part - turning newbies into active community participants.
In our case, I think that conversion is made much easier by being an open source product. I am not making the "freetarded" argument that free is always good, just that open source brings with it an expectation of community that makes creating a real community dramatically easier.