It's been argued that developers are increasingly becoming kingmakers in the software industry. The impact of this can be seen particularly in the middleware market, where software vendors have reconsidered pricing and source code availability in an effort to attract developers to their platforms. But vendors are by no means alone in courting developer interest. Luckily, enterprises seeking to attract developers to their platforms can learn valuable lessons from the software industry.
Community building requires a low barrier to entry
Forrester's Jeffrey Hammond and RedMonk's Stephen O'Grady have highlighted the importance of developer awareness, preference, and adoption in the growing success of open source software. Yet as O'Grady sees it, making your source code publicly available is far less important than reducing the barriers to entry for your particular technology. O'Grady writes:
Available Code: This isn't necessarily about source code per se, although that's related, but rather removing the barrier to entry for potential users of your application. I'm often asked what I believe to be the most critical success factor in projects such as JBoss or MySQL, and while the technical merits are important I believe that neither one of those projects would be where they are today without being freely downloadable. In competing with their commercial counterparts, JBoss and MySQL can differentiate simply by being easily obtained. When beginning a project, the choice is often download and get coding or head to procurement, and unsurprisingly the former is generally the preferred option. While this is certainly not a prerequisite for success, it's a very effective means of encouraging participation in your particular community, because there's no barrier to entry.
PHP provides a strong example of how easy access to a technology encourages community growth, as the ability to find answers to questions about PHP, whether through peers or a simple Google search, played a significant role in the technology's explosive growth.
These lessons apply equally to closed source software, where proprietary vendors are increasingly investing in developer outreach and community building efforts. The mantra is simple: Make entry easy, and the developers will come.