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The development target is a facility that provides a particular kind of structural support to open, public discussions. Each separate deployment of the facility is specific to a single topic of discussion. This is important to know, because the plan is to bootstrap the development of the facility by deploying it on the topic of the facility itself; so the developers will be eating their own dog food.

The problem is, how should a lone developer go about attracting others to the food bowl?

The only answers I have so far (and neither seems good enough) are:

  1. Continually ask in public forums for advice on the development problems that arise, such as design or implementation bugs. Maybe someone will jump in and help. (But this is a little bit sneaky and spam-like; and I apologize because I'm doing this right now.)
  2. Continually share information in private with experts such as social scientists; specifically new information that happens to cross their paths of expertise. Maybe they'll reciprocate or reply in some other helpful way. (But this seems too slow on its own.)

What other strategies are there?

I'll post a link to the project later, in case anyone is interested. Some other things you might need to know in the meantime:

  • The utility is novel and unique; no other facility serves the same purpose.
  • Both the utility and the user base are comparable to web search. Picture a discussion search engine, but more useful.
  • There might be commercial potential, but it might also be largely wiped out by a successful, non-commercial, FOSS launch. Please assume the second case.
  • A fully functional prototype is already deployed on the topic of the facility itself (as planned) and is open for anyone to use. It was assembled from off-shelf components. No code was written to make it functional, but code will certainly be needed to improve it.
  • The facility is viable with only one or two participants, but nothing to write home about. Its utility and attractiveness increase rapidly with scale. It works partly by crowdsourcing and partly by self-organization and self-governance.
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I've read your question a number of times over and I'm still not sure what your question actually is? There seems to just be a lot of irrelevant information about your product which may be hiding your actual question. –  Deco Aug 8 '13 at 2:38
@Deco True, it's a difficult question, "How - ?" I offer the only two answers that I know. Can anyone suggest a third? –  Michael Allan Aug 8 '13 at 3:14
Jeff Atwood (one of the Stack Exchange creators) shares lot of ideas and experience on his blog from Stack Exchange and now Discourse. You might want to look at blogs of the other SE creators as well. But it's true their starting position was better in that they were already famous when they started SE. –  Jan Hudec Aug 8 '13 at 7:25
@gnat Your layout edits are very helpful, thank you. –  Michael Allan Aug 8 '13 at 16:02

1 Answer 1

There is probably no way to build a successful software without having an itch to scratch. Either your or your friend's (as open source developer, you probably don't have a customer, right?). You need to start by applying the software to that itch.

For what you describe, you should propose trying the software in a community you or your friends participate in. You don't yet have a community around the project itself, so it can't be that. It just needs to be somewhere where you can efficiently gather feedback.

See also Jeff Atwood's blog though his advantage with Discourse is that he's already famous and thus easily attracts random people willing to try his creation out. You'll have to do a bit more proposing and persuading initially.

Oh, if you project extends existing software (from the description it runs, or can run, on top of forum, right?), you should integrate it with some such popular open-source software and advertise on their plugins page. That can get you some users, though that way your position for gathering feedback will be much more difficult.

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The lack of an "itch" correlates with the lack of a market, but then this is where the domain of sales and marketing come into play. A good salesman helps people realize just how itchy they really are. Did you know that we all are itchy somewhere on our bodies at all times and that we just aren't aware? I bet you just scratched some random part of your body just now. That is the essence of sales and marketing. This problem won't be solved by more clever software developer techniques. –  maple_shaft Aug 8 '13 at 9:23
@maple_shaft: Indeed. And since for open-source development you don't have a marketing and sales department, you either have the itch yourself, know somebody who has it or have to turn into salesman for a while and find somebody who has it. –  Jan Hudec Aug 8 '13 at 9:30
Right, no customer yet except me. Right, it's useful in existing forums. (I think you meant to link to this blog entry on Discourse.) Your answer rings true and I'll probably be checking it before I'm done; the options you recommend are all available in this case. Meantime however I still want to try to bootstrap it from pure idea into reality... partly just for the kick of it... (and this suggests another possible answer). Anyway, I'll be back to compare answers and share whatever I've learned. –  Michael Allan Aug 8 '13 at 15:53

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