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!

Promote

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.

Friends

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

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.

Projects Directory

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.

Niche Communities

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.

Conclusion

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!

Originally published at https://cylix.github.io on September 9th, 2017.

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Simon Ninon

Passionate about programming since middle school. French living in San Diego, California. Senior SRE at PagerDuty.