October 14, 2009, 7:51 am
Spent most of last week in Boston, Massachusetts. Actually, I spent most of the week in Waltham for Novell‚Äôs FY10 Interlock meetings. Since I‚Äôm the ‚Äúcommunity guy‚Äù most of the stuff wasn‚Äôt directly related to my job, but it is good to know what‚Äôs going on with the rest of the company and have a chance to see what the marketing priorities are for FY10.
On Saturday, I spent some quality time at the GNOME Summit. Most of the sessions were developer-oriented, and so I spent some time catching up on email and getting a few things done until the marketing / outreach session. Jason Clinton does a good job of summarizing the session on his LiveJournal.
One of the discussions we had during the marketing and outreach session is whether the marketing should emphasize ‚ÄúFree‚Äù or emphasize the benefits of GNOME.
At this point, I‚Äôm firmly in the ‚Äúbenefits‚Äù camp. Yes, Software Freedom is massively important. To the people producing GNOME, anyway. To the people who are consuming GNOME, I‚Äôm not so sure. The existing community, yes. The prospective community ‚Äî the people who we target with marketing ‚Äî probably not so much.
Talking about Software Freedom to most people is an ‚Äúeat your vegetables‚Äù approach to marketing. It‚Äôs like telling people that they should diet and exercise (and eat their veggies) in order to be healthy and live longer ‚Äî all of which is true, and sound advice. But what motivates people to exercise and diet, usually? The message that they will look and feel better in the short term. You‚Äôve all seen the ‚Äújoin a gym now so you‚Äôre ready for swimsuit season‚Äù advertisements. Convincing people that getting slimmer and healthier to live longer is a hard sell. Convincing people that they can be more attractive and so on ‚Äî that tends to seal the deal. Even though living longer and being more generally healthy is more important than looking good ‚Äî it‚Äôs not something that resonates with most people.
One of the things we talked about in the marketing meetings in Waltham is this idea: Logic leads to conclusions, but emotions lead to actions. You can make the logical argument about Software Freedom until the proverbial cows (or gnus‚Ä¶) come home, but if people aren‚Äôt buying it emotionally, they‚Äôll stick with their existing stuff.
The same is true for Software Freedom. Convincing people who don‚Äôt code, don‚Äôt compile, and rarely even install their own OS that the FSF‚Äôs Four Freedoms are important is a pretty tough task.
It‚Äôs best to lead with the benefits that people will see immediately or nearly immediately. Yes, we can still talk about Software Freedom, but leading with that as a key message? It‚Äôs probably not going to have the effect we want when talking to the ‚Äúaverage‚Äù user.
This is a hard mindset to adopt for people who do care deeply about Software Freedom. It‚Äôs not logical! Why wouldn‚Äôt people care a lot about this?! Probably for the same reason that people like RMS don‚Äôt care much about having the new shiny if it isn‚Äôt Free Software ‚Äî it‚Äôs an entirely different set of priorities.
Now, you can take the approach that you‚Äôre going to change someone‚Äôs priorities and then they‚Äôll naturally gravitate to Free Software. All you need to do is:
- Explain the difference between free software and proprietary software
- Explain why free software is better than proprietary software
- Explain why the benefits of free software apply to a person who doesn‚Äôt code or even know much about computers
- Convince them that the benefits are important enough to switch
- Then educate them on GNOME
The other approach is to de-emphasize the Free Software angle and emphasize the benefits of the project. This applies to GNOME, but it can apply equally well to openSUSE, or KDE, or any other project:
- Introduce them to the project
- Explain the benefits of the project, including Freedom
- Educate them on how to switch
I hope it‚Äôs obvious why strategy number one has not been terribly successful. Note that part of strategy number two includes making sure that the software is, in fact, better than the proprietary alternatives. That‚Äôs a lot of work, but it‚Äôs likely to be less work than convincing the majority of users that they should eat their vegetables and use the Free Software even if it‚Äôs not as easy to use or full-featured as the proprietary alternatives.