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Old 06-10-2009, 08:58 PM   #1
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Interview with Matt Ray - Zenoss Community Manager

This interview with Zenoss Community Manager Matt Ray is a continuation of the LQ Community Manager Interview Series. I'd like to thank Matt for taking the time to answer these questions.

Matt, to get us started, can you give us a little background information about yourself?

My name is Matt Ray and I am the Community Manager for Zenoss. Prior to joining Zenoss I worked as a developer for one of the "Big 4" in network management and I had a Linux kiosk company on the side. I've bounced around from startups to big companies and back again and participated in the communities along the way, but I'm really happy to finally be working directly with Free and Open Source software.

How did you get involved in Open Source, and what was the path that lead to you become a community manager?

I actually started when I was in college and was working with Solaris and AIX boxes doing hydrologeological modeling as an intern. I'd heard about running Linux on our x86 boxes and worked on porting our applications over, and I was hooked by Red Hat 5.0. I got my geology degree and immediately reenrolled in computer science and became active with the ACM Linux special interest group and local Austin LUGs. I wrote tutorials for new users, was active in the various lists, submitted lots of documentation tickets, and even got invited to participate in Red Hat's IPO.

After school I worked in various industries (banking, retail, network management) with an assortment of programming languages (Perl, Java, Python) and was the guy who ran it Linux on the desktop. I switched from Red Hat to Debian, used SuSE and Gentoo for a while and continued to play with random Linux technologies (mips/sparc/ppc as well as Mosix and Beowulf clusters). Because I was "the Linux guy", at one of my jobs I got to put together my own diskless Linux distribution for a retail client that had 14,000 installations at one point. I switched to a network management company for my day job and started my own Linux kiosk company that never got beyond a few stores.

I was fortunate enough to work with good friends along the way, so when I started looking for a job I always had good suggestions and recommendations. I told one of my friends who knew a lot of startups, Michael Cote' of Red Monk, that I wanted to work with an Open Source company and he introduced me to Zenoss, based out of Annapolis, Maryland. Initially I was going to be a developer working from home, but after seeing the description of the Community Manager position, I decided I'd rather engage more with users. Zenoss hired me and several of my former coworkers and we started the Austin office.

What do you consider your most important role as community manager? Has this remained consistent over time?

My most important role is to act as an advocate for the users of Zenoss Core. Zenoss Inc. is a commercial open source company, so we sell support and additional features on top of Zenoss Core as our Enterprise product. My goal is to make sure that Zenoss Core continues to improve and to build a vibrant community of users that will expand the reach of Zenoss as a network monitoring platform, regardless of their financial contributions to Zenoss Inc. Any barriers that users identify, I work to break them down. So I've been involved in installers, user and developer documentation, QA and testing, working with Zenoss and community developers and engaging Product Management to help direct development. The only consistent aspect of the job is that there's always something new and different to work on, so I'm always busy and never bored.

If someone is interested in taking on a more active role in the Zenoss community, how would you recommend they get started? What do you consider Zenoss's biggest hurdle in this regard and what have you done to try to address that hurdle?

Depending on your interests, there are many ways to contribute in the Zenoss community. We have a lot of excellent people in the Zenoss forums and IRC, answering questions and helping each other out with any issues that arise (with specific forums for different topics). There are several folks who have helped write additional documentation, drilling down into features that don't have enough coverage or writing supplements to the official documentation. There is an active developer community around Zenoss, writing extensions to the platform with "ZenPacks" or supplying patches directly to Zenoss itself. is the hub for most activities, with links to everything.

I think our biggest hurdle is overcoming complexity; Zenoss is an extremely powerful and flexible system, which means we have to work hard to remove any barriers to participation. Our documentation, installers and the overall platform have all improved tremendously in the past year or so, so I think we're making progress.

How would you describe the Zenoss governance model and how important do you consider this to community participation?

There is not a formalized governance model, we haven't seen this interfering with community participation so far, but perhaps as Zenoss matures we may need one.

If you had to give advice to someone starting a new Open Source project about how to interact with their community, what would it be?

Always be honest and responsive when dealing with the community, believe in karma and be patient. Try to make time to respond to emails, especially direct ones, even if they don't seem directly relevant. If someone finds faults with your project, take their criticism and make it constructive. Don't set unrealistic expectations, because progress takes time. Community management is not an exact science and you're never done, so have patience and be flexible.

What are the signs you think indicate that an Open Source project has become large enough to need a community manager?

Once your project has transitioned from software to a platform, you need to start considering how you plan on interacting with the ecosystem you are now part of. You may be able to keep the community growing by making sure everyone on the project engages the community. Eventually you will need to have a point of contact for your community to help them solve their problems, whether it's documentation, code, support or other questions. If there is not a dedicated resource, people may find the project unresponsive or uncaring and this will hurt your credibility and reputation, which is very important when you depend on the goodwill of others.

What do you consider the best metrics for evaluating how successful a community manager is?

We look at metrics like number of users, downloads, installations, activity on the website, defects, patches and other individual contributions and periodic community satisfaction surveys. The key is listening to the members of your community and our users tell us that we've been putting out better software, better documentation and they recognize that we've tried to provide them with better tools for collaboration with the project and with each other.

In your opinion, what it Zenoss's single biggest strength and single biggest weakness? In what ways do those impact your community?

Zenoss' biggest strengths are its flexibility and ease of customization. The single biggest weakness is that it is a complex system with a tremendous number of customizations you can make. Unfortunately network management is not as simple as one would hope, so while Zenoss provides a huge swath of coverage, you will have to become familiar with it for long-term success. This impacts our community all the time, in good ways and bad. There are very few monitoring problems that Zenoss could not be configured to solve, it just requires that the complexity be managed appropriately, that the documentation is clear and that the users take time to understand it. We are constantly refining our platform, striving to make it more accessible. We have been making regular major updates to our documentation and have tried to lower barriers to entry for new users with webinars, IRC sessions, our Getting Started Guide, easier installations and working to refine the user interface. Our new and veteran users have responded very positively so far, but there is still much to do.

Describe the current relationship between the Zenoss Core Open Source community and Zenoss, Inc. What's the decision making process when deciding whether a new feature will go into Core or one of the commercial products?

Zenoss Core is simply the free and open source project that Zenoss Inc. supports along with many other projects including RRDTool, Twisted and MRTG. Zenoss Inc. provides support, services and enterprise features in addition to Zenoss Core. These features are typically monitoring or integrations into commercial packages (VMware, Oracle, Websphere, Remedy) or solutions to issues faced by large service providers (distributed collection, multiple installation management, high-availability configuration). Most of the pieces that Zenoss Enterprise uses to solve these problems are in Zenoss Core; Zenoss Enterprise provides "officially supported" techniques, support, instrumentation and configuration expertise. There are no limitations put on Zenoss Core and there are thousands of Zenoss Core installations, the largest I know of is used to monitor over 10,000 devices.

What's your take on the recent "Open Source leeches" meme (

We believe that there are no "leeches", as long as you are complying with the license. If you don't want people to use your software without contributing back, don't put it out under a license that is made for exactly that purpose. Free software is not shareware, it is free as in speech and as in beer. While it would be very nice if everyone who downloaded Zenoss contributed back to the project in some way, that is a naive assumption. Practically speaking, commercial open source companies are putting out their software to leverage the benefits of the open source community in a symbiotic relationship. They get feedback, QA and testing, marketing, development and documentation from a small percentage of the users they reach that choose to participate. Some may be your biggest advocates without ever giving you a dime, some may become customers and the vast majority will be content to use the software and never look back. That is the freedom of choice that all users have. A community manager's job is to bring more users into the ecosystem and facilitate participation from both sides of the relationship.
I believe that commercial open source has a competitive advantage over traditional closed-source companies because when done right, you get to leverage the "force-multiplier" of your community. Most users won't participate, you just have to keep encouraging them and make it worth their time. There are a great number of tremendous contributors to Zenoss who don't work for Zenoss Inc. The key of course, is to treat the community with respect and integrity because you are no longer your own isolated project; you are the stewards of an ecosystem.

Thanks again for the interview.


Old 06-15-2009, 11:11 AM   #2
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Thanks again for the interview!



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