I read something the other day that discussed whether or not SaaS and OpenSource were in competition. That got me thinking down a tangent and what I want to talk about now is communities.

First a disclaimer – there will be some wild generalisations here but bear with me.

OpenSource tends to build passionate users that consider themselves, to a certain extent “owners” and “developers” of the product in question. These communities tend to be rabidly loyal and have a tendency towards evangelisation.

SaaS on the other hand tends to build networks or communities of individuals that share a commonality – be it use, interest whatever. SaaS users tend to be loyal to a point, but not nearly as loyal as OpenSource-ers.

To a certain extent SaaS enterprises have attempted to create the OpeSource level of community by embracing the concepts of beta-testing and user feedback and development. This however has been reasonably limited (mainly due to the fact that OpenSource is free, at some point a free beta-test of a SaaS product will generally swing over to a subscription based service).

Imagine if you will a situation where a revenue generating SaaS product builds a community of such committed users that they become the salesforce, an integral part of the development team and the PR gang.

Community 2.0?

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • Turning your customers into “Brand Ambassadors” has always been the dream. The biggest difference between most SaaS and Open Source is that the Open Source customers get something for their participation. They get to shape and “own” the product. Until SaaS figures out how to give something as valuable back to their community, it will be hard for the community to reach the same level.

    Ben, in the spirit of Seth Godin’s post about thinking of something very valuable to give your best customer without expecting anything in return, what should SaaS companies give their communities to fire them up?

  • Ben most open source projects are just library (API – application programming interface). This means these software are not applications, you can’t use them for anything unless you’re a software developer that you could grab those APIs and develop applications with them, be it SaaS app , stand-alone or something else.

  • I guess your viewpoint is technology-centric FF. I’m coming from a conceptual viewpoint.

    That aside as you say there is no reason why these libraries couldn’t be utilised within a SaaS framework

  • Where are you getting that statistic from Falafulu? Browsing by intended audience on Freshmeat – http://freshmeat.net/browse/1/ – possibly the largest index of open source – suggests that well over half of the projects listed are targeted at end users. And of those targeted at developers, many will not be APIs, but dev tools.

    Now I suppose if you took every single component in every one of the open source library projects (not really APIs as such) and considered it individually, then yes those would probably outnumber the end-user projects, but I’m not sure why you would do that – and if you did the same in the proprietary software universe you’d get the same sort of proportions I imagine,

  • Ben you raise a great point. It seems to me more of a historical oddity that so far most of the SaaS platform vendors (Salesforce, Teqlo, Coghead) have chosen to be proprietary and not open source. In fact, an open source version of a SaaS product with payment for commercial features would be a great business model. I wrote on a similar topic at http://www.keeneview.com/2007/09/take-pass-on-platform-saas.html

  • Thanks for that Chris – yes it’s an interesting and surprising thing….

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