Tips to successfully build your open-source projects #6. Promote and Get Feedback
You have developed your project, you thoroughly tested and documented it, and you just made your first release!
So now, what's next? Working on the next release? Waiting for people to use your project? Move on to another project?
Even if your goal is not to get adoption is to maintain a project in the long-term, you should try to spread the word about your project. At the very least, it can get you some valuable feedback!
Many developers tend to believe that their project is self-sufficient: people will find it when they need it, they will definitely have a preference for it over alternatives out there, and adoption will gradually build up naturally from there.
Not only this, but many developers tend to have a bad opinion about sales and marketing. A common idea is that engineers generate value by building the product, while sales and marketing do not bring much to the table except closing a few deals.
In the end, it's a common misconception: many great products would have never been successful without people helping to spread the word about it and increasing the revenue stream (effectively financing the engineers to improve the product). There are so many products on the market, it requires some effort to get a bit of visibility on yours.
One main element feeding this misconception is the idea that there is no other tool like yours, meaning that many people are waiting for it. At worst, this is a false assumption and a failure to identify competitors. At best, how are these people supposed to find you? These people are definitely not googling every day to see if someone finally created the tool they needed.t
This is the exact same for your open-source project. Your project is not going to have a surge of visitors as soon as you make your first release. In most cases, sadly, nothing much will happen.
And it is too bad! You spent so much time putting everything you have on this project: why would you want it to stay in the dark?
To get people to discover your project and start getting adoption and feedback, you will need to put a bit of effort into promoting it. Of course, no need to make a full marketing campaign, but spreading the word is a necessity.
Those are people you know, so they may be more inclined to give a look at your project and tell you what they think. For people who are not too comfortable talking about their projects with strangers, sharing it with acquaintances can help build confidence in a friendly environment.
However, keep in mind that your friends are also very likely to be gentle in their feedback. They might mostly give you positive feedback only, and you will need to ask them the correct questions to hear valuable feedback. For example, you can set yourself the goal to get one new constructive feedback from each person you'll talk to.
Another drawback of close relationships is that they may not be very familiar with the context of your project, such that it might limit the quality of their feedback. Make sure to understand the background of the people you are talking to.
Nonetheless, sharing your project with your friends, family, or coworkers, is a solid place to start.
HackerNews is a great place to get visibility and quality feedback from others. It even has a section dedicated to showing your project, Show HN. It is visited by thousands of people every day, mostly from the tech industry, and the comments section tends to have curated content.
The main drawback of this platform is that, if your publication did not manage to get enough traction, it will quickly disappear and nobody will really get a chance to see it. There isn't much you can do about it.
The quality of your project can definitely help you to get some upvotes and make your way to the front page, but the topic of your project matters a lot to get some initial attention, and luck is a big part of it as well.
Getting visibility is great, but you need to get the attention of people likely to use your project if your goal is adoption. One way to get visibility among these people is to think about where they would go to find a project like yours.
For example, I built a C++ Redis Client library, cpp_redis. My target users are people who need to integrate Redis in their C++ programs: those are likely to look for a list of Redis clients to compare.
Using this hypothesis, I looked out for listings of Redis clients and I discovered that there is a list of all Redis clients available on the official Redis website, redis.io. I immediately listed my project there and it definitely got me some users. Similarly, I also listed my library in a cppreference.com directory.
This is an easy way to create some opportunities for others to find your project, rather than hoping for them to miraculously land on your Github page. However, set some reasonable expectations: you are just listing your project somewhere, it may take some time to get some results.
I mentioned previously that HackerNews was a good way to get visibility and feedback quickly. However, one drawback of HackerNews is that your publication can easily be unseen if it did not get enough initial traction.
An alternative to HackerNews is to seek feedback from smaller communities. For example, Reddit, or some IRC/Slack/Discord/…
I haven't done it personally, but it's definitely something I would do for my next project. If we take the previous example of my C++ Redis Client library, cpp_redis, some good places could be the Redis subreddit, the C++ subreddit, or the RedisLabs Slack.
Those may not bring as much visibility as what you can get on HackerNews, but you are more likely to get your project noticed and to get relevant feedback.
You have put a lot of hard work into building your project: don't let it go unseen and try to get some feedback, even if your goal is not adoption.
As you can see from this article, getting a bit of visibility does not require too much work. You mostly need to identify a few interesting places where you can drop a link to your project and ask people for some feedback.
Plan to allocate some time to create opportunities for others to find your project. There is no shame in promoting your project!
Read all my tips to successfully build your open-source projects:
Originally published at https://cylix.github.io on September 9th, 2017.