As the US approaches a historical* election year and my family and I have been traveling I’ve come across the topic of customer insulation. Customer insulation is generally created by the layers of policy and people between those served by an organization and the organization’s decision makers. It’s easy to understand this topic by quickly demonstrating the extremes, hence my reference to politics.
The political system in the United States creates one of the most insulative environments for conducting business. While there are notable exceptions it’s just generally bad. The American people and even congress weren’t consulted before the country actively started launching missiles at people’s houses in Libya. Having worked around explosives I can tell you that if your house was near a target it would change your outlook on life. I find it interesting that the United States hasn’t won a war since they stopped declaring war. Seems like when you don’t take the time to define your goals (but decide to use deadly force anyway) you don’t reach your goals. In any other industry you’d at minimum lose your job for such ineffectiveness, but I’ll let you good readers search for how long some of these representatives have been in office and to illustrate how insulative that system is.
Now, on the other side of things we have open source software development. Talk about an extreme!
On this end of the chart we’d like to think that there’s no 0 insulation but that would be disingenuous. Everyone screens their emails, tunes out from time to time and limits their inner circle to what can be managed. All developers are insulated to some degree. While many are insulted by simply limiting the amount of inputs they have into their lives there are generally more inputs to open source developers than those in any other industry.
Right now I could easily get in contact with Suse and Ubuntu developers. I can easily contact the heads of some of my favorite projects and have my questions or comments reviewed on open source oriented podcasts. While we complain about some things not going our way we can easily forget how responsive our ecosystem is. The tech press is discussing how responsive Apple is with their articles about cutting dongle prices for the new MacBook. If that’s their idea of a responsive company maybe they ought to take a look at what’s going on in the open source community.
I recently launched an instance of Rocket.Chat for our family, because email is feeling a bit cumbersome. In seconds I had my digitalocean server up and running. In another couple of seconds I had the snap installed. Being new to securing my servers I reached out to one of the devs for assistance on getting that working and had a reply with instructions that made my life easy. Couldn’t have done it without the developer’s accessibility. Thank you!
Rocket.chat demonstrates this level of low insulation in another way as well. Head over to https://demo.rocket.chat and sign in. After you do so look at the logo in the lower left hand side. There’s a bit of an invitation, “fork it on github.” Fork it? Isn’t forking generally bad? Don’t we often see forking as a division of effort often times on the road to ineffectiveness? Yes, we do and this invitation is an open challenge for others to create competition that will make the software better. The more insulated software companies, Apple & Microsoft, have a historical record of discouraging code exploration and development. The results were easily seen with this week’s much-ado-about-dongles.
If you’re a developer with the next great idea looking to start a project I’d highly advise you to stop writing code for a few minutes and figure out your communication plan. What methods will you use to allow your customers to contact you? How will you find that right balance of awareness and responsiveness? What could you learn from the seasoned pros of the community by studying the workflows of Martin Wimpress, Bryan Lunduke, Linus Torvalds, and all the other folks that have figured out what works for them? Of course, you could just ignore everyone that empowers you, but the only way that would work long term is if they didn’t have any other choice. I hear there’s a job hunt going on for folks in government on Tuesday although it might be too late to apply for this year.
*The two most unliked candidates in American history: http://www.redstate.com/leon_h_wolf/2016/07/17/hated-candidates-history-choose-running-mates-generate...-total-indifference/