James van der Walt

Social Entrepreneur, Ugesi Gold

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What makes for a fun business?

I've just started my open-source project and I realise it's harder than it looks.

After watching Steve Keil's talk about making a business fun I realized just how pivotal it is to an open-source project. Good intentions aren't enough. You might have the best idea or promise the most profound impact and it won't matter, people will not take notice if it's not interesting or fun.

Nothing is for free. We might not want payment but then we want something else. Enjoyment.

So what makes for an interesting open-source project? How do you get people to take note of a social idea? What would make you stop and give your time to a project?

Here are some ideas I've received so far:
1) Offer prized for the best ideas i.e. material compensation.
2) A leader board to appeal to people's egos. Just show who is the smartest and can solve the problem the best i.e. credit and a sense of community
3) Compassion. Show how much this can help the world.

I would love to hear your ideas.

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    Dec 9 2011: Being thanked for your contribution.
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    Dec 2 2011: James,

    Great question! I submit that business is fun when the people involved are jazzed about being there...when you can wake up in the morning and be excited about going to work, that attitude will permeate the workplace. In order for that to happen, people have to a)be passionate about what they do b) feel that they are useful - that their ideas and contributions are valued and c) feel they are properly rewarded. Good leadership sets the tone for that.

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      Dec 2 2011: The thing with open-source there is now leadership. There's the owner of the project but he can't demand anything from people. The only reason people give their free time is because they're having fun or they are passionate about the projects goals.
      I agree that people's ideas valued else they'll stop enjoying it and stop working. Also if they start calling it work they will stop as well.
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    Nov 29 2011: So... I have a weird idea here... but it worked for Linux for awhile. Sell it, and give people merit based pay. Make it open source, but also simultaneously make a company that sells it for people too lazy to track it down on the net, or who already downloaded it but still wouldn't mind giving you 5 bucks. Same with open source designs. Give the designs out for free, but then create a business that pays people to build it, and make it the best or cheapest version people can buy without making it themselves. People are lazy, they want you to sell it to them, but that doesn't mean you can't give it out for free for other people to tweak and make unique. Salesmen need jobs too... Win, win.

    I'm a big fan of bounties for big ideas too. Also the Kevin Smith model never killed anyone Producer - "We don't just pay you to work with your friends Mr. Smith."... Kevin Smith - "Really? It's kinda been my whole thing, my whole life."
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      Nov 29 2011: I agree but we first need the R&D-I-Y part. Maybe once people see the design working it will be a different story. Can expect people to try something that you haven't tried yourself. Next year I'll go build a full prototype and see what type of impact I can generate. Once that's done then the selling and R&D can be tried again maybe...

      Now that you mentioned open-source software. Software has the great advantage that you can handle the whole project development virtually. Any physical open-source will require the other side to rebuild to prototype before being able to reproduce it. Still it is possible...

      I just watched Britta Riley - "A garden in my apartment" and how open-sourcing can help with R&D. She to had her first project build before going open-source. Maybe that is key...
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    Dec 3 2011: I have no idea James!! All I know is that everything I do turns into a great deal of fun.
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    Dec 1 2011: Passion, humor & systems.
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      Dec 2 2011: Systems?
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        Dec 2 2011: Yes, because if efficient and self-sufficient systems are set-up & running smoothly for your business then surely it'll free up some time & energy for more fun. Including focusing your energy on humour & passion...
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          Dec 2 2011: Oh I understand. That's really tough thing to do considering the organic / ad-hoc nature of open-source. How would you manage a system like that?
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        Dec 2 2011: Valid point. An idea could be to set up a self-managing system somehow. It certainly won't be easy. Then again, nothing worthwhile really is.

        Perhaps an open forum where everybody is a 'manager' and can input ideas & communicate effective ways of progressing things for a particular project or sub-project.

        Even something as simple as setting up an open group facebook page where open communication between all members/managers is a available.
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    Nov 29 2011: I think people find a project fun that poses an accessible creative challenge and that gives them a feeling of comraderie with like-minded people.

    Benkler argues that material compensation may be an incentive for some people but a disincentive for others. The same would be true of competition.

    I am not remembering now how far Benkler goes in his talk, but he discusses possible motivational structures in detail in his paper in Yale Law Review that I believe is called Coase's Penguin (or something like that).
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      Nov 29 2011: There was another talk where the speaker says that it is mastery that inspires people. That's why people learn to play the guitar. It's not because they want to be the best or make money from it. They simply want to be good at it because it provides entertainment.

      Now that is all grand but how do you get your project at that level. Take my wave generator idea for example. The people that work on Britta's gardens have the motivation that they want something green in their apartments and to master making their own food. People is cities will have very little interest in green electricity if they can't use it themselves.

      So who will find what projects interesting, that is the question. I guess even open-source requires market research to work. You must appeal to the right people.
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    Nov 26 2011: So then the next question is how do you find out what appeals to people? How do you get people to buy into what you are trying to do? Do you determine the direction or do you let the "crowd" determine the direction of the business requirements?
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      Nov 29 2011: That is the million dollar question. Some one out there will love to help design whatever project you have in mind. But how do you find them...
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        Nov 29 2011: James, that is another great question. In some cases, synchronicity will help guide those folks to a common creative space but sometimes you have to really dig to find other folks. I always thought you could use social tools like Twitter or Facebook to find those folks but those tools need to be focused on the types of people you are seeking, similar to what TED.com does with their site. They are out there and all they need is a compassionate incentive and they will dive right in.
    • Dec 9 2011: @ Kevin You don't find out what appeals to other people. You do what appeals to you, with all of your passion.
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    Nov 25 2011: Hi James,

    What I think:

    People like to contribute and they like to do what they're good at.

    You can't get people to like what you do but you need to find people that do what you like.

    Mostly those that are doing a lot already are likely to do more and vice versa.

    Making people enthousiastic is by showing results, if results are still away you need to picture it out as it was fact already.
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      Nov 25 2011: That's a very valid point. It's not just about making it appealing but more about finding the people that a project would appeal too.