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Created March 21, 2019 00:17
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Transcript of Jen Weber's "How to Grow or Save Your Favorite Open Source Project" lightning talk from EmberConf 2019

How to grow or save your favorite Open Source project

Link to slides


Hi, my name is Jen Weber! I'm a member of the Ember.js core teams and soon I'll be working at Cardstack.

In the next five minutes, I’ll share proven grassroots organizing and sales strategies that you can use to grow your favorite open source project.

In 2011, I spend a year in Americorps. I attended seminars on how to grow the number of volunteers for a project, and they were usually were a bit boring. Except one day. The director asked, “why do you think people volunteer?” My teammate said, "All volunteers are selfish." The room was SILENT. Should we be insulted? WE Americorps members, volunteer out of the goodness of our hearts! We’re here to help others, to build our communities! She must be wrong. But she went on to explain, few people act on pure altruism for very long.

The happiest volunteers get something in return. This changed forever how I approach volunteering, both in community activism and tech. For example, I have this big goal of helping to help lower barriers to entry for others in tech. That’s why I work on open source projects like Ember. But if I am honest with myself, it’s the little things that help me keep going, things that aren’t necessarily rooted in moral obligations or ideals.

Essentially, I’m powered by warm fuzzies. My basic needs as a volunteer have very little to do with the norm that “developers who use open source tools should give back.” It’s my job as a leader to help make sure people get what they need from a volunteering experience.

But, how do you know what people really want the most? Robert Cialdini coined the term “Principles of influence” to describe common human motivators.

One of the principles is Liking. If people like you, they are more likely to help you. Cialdini says that one way to build liking is through praise. So if you like someone’s work, and you hope they do more of it, don’t be shy about it!

The next principle is social proof. People are more likely to do things that they see other people doing. Our second strategy is, be loud about your work, whether you’re a user or leader of a project. That includes work-in-progress, success, AND failures.

Next, the principle of reciprocity is that people are more likely to take action when they have been given something small. If you participate in Open Source even a little, you’re giving something for free. So, it’s ok to ask for help, again and again. It’s in all of our best interests if people are writing, talking about, fixing, and building the tools that our livelihoods or missions rely on. For best success, be as specific as possible, and the results may surprise you.

Last is Commitment & Consistency. People want to appear that they uphold their commitments and that they are consistent with their past actions. When other people notice an action or commitment, someone may feel more encouraged to follow through.

This one is easy. Always say thank you to other volunteers. These are powerful words.

In closing, I’d like to share this graph from a talk by Laurie Voss, one of the creators of npm. This bold, green line shows Ember on the upswing as a percentage of the npm ecosystem

This isn’t magic. It’s the result of intentional and repetitive action by many people.

To strengthen the open source technologies that power your businesses and goals, that are consistent with your ideals, you have to look in more places than the codebase

One of the best ways to drive sustainable growth is to loudly offer support and encouragement, even for the tiny things.

Thank you for your help!


  • How great leaders inspire action, by Simon Sinek
  • Fostering Sustainable Behavior, by Doug McKenzie-Mohr
  • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
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