How to generate free buzz for your open source project
Youre probably smart enough to figure out what in my opinion is a great way for generating that magic buzz around your open source commitment. Yeap, I claim that it has something to do with user interfaces. (Well, isn’t that news)
Three years ago I happened to stumble upon interesting project called ReactOS; a “free version” of Microsoft Windows – open source (blackboxing Windows components) and able to run Windows applications out of the box. Sounds sweet BUT… There’s always a catch. The thing that struck my eyes was the user interface, not because it just was so sweet, far from it. It struck my eyes because it was far from attractive, which in my eyes, was doing good job of destroying the appeal of the whole software. Hence, I decided I wanted to pitch in.
Now, years later I stumbled upon the same project and I even found mockups I made for the project from my harddrive. This provoked some thougths.
It’s quite a shame how open source projects still regards user interface as boring chore that will be done (mayhaps?) when someone finds a way to summon the energy for it. Which in turn will make the UI.. well, crappy, since the fact is that good UI and usability needs work. Since open source lives and dies by the number of developers donating their free time for it, I recon it actually should be very important for open source project to have appealing sweetness-dripping user interface and in-action screenshots. I’d even go so far as claim that 90-95% of people who bump into new software project, as their first thing, glance through the screenshots, rather than thumb through the features list. Since you only get one chance for first impression, the user interface should be taken care of from the very beginning. The guy/girl who just saw your screenshots of software that actually looks professional, functional and promising, might not magically be mind controlled by the project, contributing 10 hours per day, but 9 times out of 10 he/she will mention/link your screenshots to his/her friends. This in turn generates buzz, which is something that keeps the gears turning in open source projects, as the chain eventually finds new people who want to contribute.
How is it free then, you might ask, as it still needs work? Yes, it does require work but it’s a work you would need to work at some point anyways. And the sweetness doesn’t end there, you start getting more user experiences your new user interface, so the user interface actually starts to take shape at the same time you code the things that make the whole thing work.
However, user suggestions is something that you really need to be careful of, as subjective perception is not a measurement of usability. You need to figure out why they feel like button A should be replaced with button B. Is it because it’s used by some random software uses the same convention or is it because they like B more than A or is it because they actually use action B more than A? And why is that?
This method of generating buzz isn’t of course the only one or might not even be the best one, who knows? It is, however, a real way to create positive first impression and as such positive buzz to your project. Now, you just have to keep your end of the bargain and actually develop the project further as people, in the time of fast paced internet, will grow tired of waiting for things to happen. I’d recommend small, fast and steady stream of changes and improvements; be agile!
It should also be noted that the website of the project has it’s say on the first impressions. Simple and elegant is better than complicated and cluttered.
First impressions. User interface. Tell your friends.Posted by Mikko Tikkanen | 0 comments