There’s a discussion going on over at OSNews about how the OSS community needs to start focusing on the users. I think that’s true, but he’s got it backwards. He talks about the developer’s responsibility, but the open-source developer has no responsibility except to himself. It’s the user who has a responsibility to join the community.

I do this because I like doing it. I do it because, like any good hobby, I can do something, and then sit back and look at what I’ve done, and be content, knowing I’ve made things better in some small way. Users do not beget open-source software, open-source software begets users. The fact that OSS is useful to “regular” users is great, and it’s certainly no small part in that happiness I mentioned. It’s wonderful to get an e-mail from a happy user who likes the results of your hard work. However, that is not the goal — it is a side-effect.

It’s important to note, developers doing something for their own needs does not preclude things that have traditionally been ignored in the developer community. The Fink project that I work on has some of the best documentation I’ve seen in an open-source project. Since our target audience is MacOS X users who traditionally have no UNIX (or even command-line) experience, we have a lot of documentation for things that are traditionally glossed-over in open-source projects. Despite document-writing being a typically thankless job, it’s heartening to be able to say that; and that feeling makes it a little bit easier the next time it’s time to sit down and document something.

Anyways, I digress. I think this anonymous post sums it up pretty nicely:

I didn’t write it because I have an overriding urge to ‘implement all the current standards relating to customer feedback processes’ I wrote it because I wanted a tool and didn’t have a suitable one to hand.

If you’re a user, don’t, by any stretch, think your views are unimportant, or that users don’t mean anything to open-source developers; there are few things nicer than a “great job!” from a user on a discussion list. But don’t assume you run the show, either. 🙂

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