Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

Open Source Community Personality Spectrum

Most good open source projects attract an audience of supporters. When the buzz around the project reaches a certain point, it will also pull in detractors. We commonly use the term “community” to describe the group of people discussing the project. Mostly we mean the supporters, but it really includes anybody with an interest in the project, good or bad.

When you observe these communities for long enough, certain archetypes emerge…

Fanboy: ravenously positive about the application, even though he’s never used anything else. Will viciously attack anyone who makes even the slightest criticism of the project. Sometimes, the fanboy has never used the application, but is really just a fan of the lead developer.

Zealot: Highly attached to the application. Probably would agree that it’s great as a floor wax and a dessert topping. Will jump in and defend it whenever anyone says anything negative about it. Tends to put out a lot of “+1 me too!” messages.

Enthusiast: Likes the application, and is generally positive about it. Will acknowledge that it has some faults, but feels that they are minor enough to ignore, or can be worked around.

Stoic: Uses the application, but views it as a commodity. If something comes along that looks significantly better in some way, he’ll switch.

Skeptic: Uses the application, but tends to complain about anything that doesn’t work exactly as he thinks it should. Highly suspicious of the motivations behind many design/feature decisions.

Grump: Only uses the application because all the competing products suck even worse. Constantly angry because the developers won’t add the features he thinks are important. As soon as something better comes along, he’s out of here, and he’s taking all his friends with him!

Hater: Doesn’t know why anybody would touch the application with a ten-foot pole. Complains that everyone who works on the project is untalented/idiotic/has a hidden agenda. Has never used the product, and never will, because it’s so inferior to his favorite tool. Likes to troll the mailing lists with inflammatory statements, just to stir up trouble.

Fortunately, most community members will be Enthusiasts. But the extremists, while few in number, can often form a vocal minority which can overshadow the moderate majority. When you start hearing an outcry of praise or complaints, it might be worthwhile to consider if these are really the opinions of your core users or not.

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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13 Responses to Open Source Community Personality Spectrum

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  4. Doug Stewart says:

    Great, GREAT book. It’s a shame more folks in the WP community haven’t read it…

  5. Kirk M says:

    Q: How do you know you’ve been spending too much time on open source forums?

    A: When you find yourself writing up a post classifying the types community archetypes. 😀

    A fine post and all too true. Seen the same thing in just about every open source forums/communities from WordPress to Mozilla to the various popular Linux distros. One possible exception, believe it or not, is the Linux Mint forums/community as it’s population of “enthusiasts” so far appear to be 95% or better. I must speak to them about this. I mean, what business is it of theirs breaking the mold like that?

  6. Pingback: Libology Blog » Personality Spectrum

  7. Hello Dougal,

    I have noticed these types before myself, I just didn’t have names for them. Sad thing is, they just don’t exist in the open source world, they are everywhere! I have seen the same thing with cameras, cars, motorcycles, I could go on, but, you get the idea. Thanks for putting a name to them, before I just labeled all as “nuts”!


  8. iamronen says:

    I’d like to think of myself as a part of the WordPress community… but couldn’t find a place for myself on your list… which I find interesting because it is aligned with how I feel about it: Closed Open Source

  9. Hikari says:

    Very nice list of archetypes! 😀

    Well, I understand developers do their best to make the software the best possible, and in the case of open source projects they can’t be charged too much (in case they are really doing it for free, this doesn’t apply when the project is being supported by investitors who profit from it and donate so that it stays healthy, and these developers are paid).

    Of course, in any community, for its owners, admins and mods, enthusiasts are the best to have. That’s because they are positive, try to help, and doesn’t create so much trouble as fanboys.

    But, based on the list, skeptics are the best for the project, IMHO. They aren’t extremists, and points the software drawbacks, which must be improved. You can’t better yourself with praises, and if you only receive them you may end up believing them and thinking you’re perfect. It’s when you receive criticism that you know from “ppl out there” what you should focus on.

    Grumps are harmful, but he’s still using the app, so he’s a user and *must* be heard. It’s better to hear him, see what he thinks and try to make it better while he’s using, then letting the competitors do so and get him. Of course, he tends to complain a lot and do nothing, he’s the guy who never recognizes your work and still want you to work even harder, and that’s damn boring.

    And IDK how the list author could forget the all knowing *troll*! Well maybe he’s just a mix of haters, grumps and fanboys 😀

  10. Maddy says:

    This is more my partner’s field than mine, but I love the descriptions – I think they pretty much apply to any community group.

  11. Aabaakawad says:

    Imagine what it will be like running a community website called “On Race and Gender”!

    Oh well, if it were easy everyone would be doing it.


    Wishing you progress …

    — Aaby

  12. Jeremy Clarke says:

    Great writeup. If nothing it’s an excellent point of meditation for community members: am I being the enthusiast? We should all strive for that position in things we care about and hope will succeed, and we need to watch ourselves to not stray too far into the other less productive roles.

    In terms of wp specifically it’s interesting to try to classify the notoriously problematic community members using this system. Enthusiast might still work for some of the most problematic. At least on wp hackers, where few grumps seem to stick around or post.

  13. Sodemacom says:

    So in a nutshell there is no real right solution for this

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