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Will the real open source community please stand up?

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I recently had an e-mail conversation with an IT pro that knocked me for a loop. Responding to a presentation I did on open source, he said, "It's a great topic, but I would have liked to see a member of the open source community participating."

Whoa! I didn't know that I wasn't a member of the open source community! So I wrote back, saying that I certainly consider myself part of the community. He responded by saying that in his opinion the open source community was confined to those individuals who are open source developers.

That definition sure does limit the size, scope and inclusiveness of the open source community, and I'm wondering if it's a definition shared by many IT professionals.

This exchange got me to thinking about the term "community." It's thrown around a lot. You often hear statements beginning with, "The community believes in …" or "The community won't respect …," without any real identification of who makes up the community.

Over the past few weeks, I have been polling people on what they mean by the term "community."

What's been fascinating is the ambiguity of the responses. Some people identify the community as my correspondent did, including only open source coders. Others include people who contribute other project artifacts, like bug reports, documentation and so on.

Many people have a very inclusive definition that encompasses developers, artifact contributors and the entire user base. It is this latter definition that I find most congenial. In fact, I think a broad definition of community is crucial to the ultimate success of open source.

One of the real strengths of open source is that -- unlike commercial software -- its users have myriad resources to turn to. Open source is no monolithic, take it or leave it, world. It's hard to overstate the power of this aspect of open source. Something about open source brings out mutual effort, which makes using it much, much easier.

So what's wrong in defining the open source community as only a group of developers?

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