3 Keys to Growing the Adoption of an Open Source Project


April 19, 2023

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The open source world has played a significant role in software innovation, giving birth to numerous popular projects with thousands or even millions of users. However, many of these projects find it challenging to expand their user base. If you're looking to create a commercial business around your open source project, you'll want to ensure it has a growing user community before diving in. So, how can you accelerate growth and pave the way for a potential commercial venture? This article will delve into three key factors for open source growth: building an amazing product, raising awareness, and making your product more user-friendly than alternatives. We'll also discuss ways to nurture a robust open source community and boost growth.

graph from 2022 state of open source report showing open source expansion
Source: Open Logic - 2022 Open Source Report

Building a Kick-Ass Product:

To kickstart the growth and adoption of your open source project, you must build an amazing product. People gravitate towards products that not only pique their interest but also solve their problems. Identifying your ideal user, the problems you aim to solve, and focusing on building a solid project are crucial for its short-term and long-term growth. Here's a six-step recipe for creating an amazing product:

Ask the Right Questions:

Begin by asking yourself some fundamental questions about your project and potential commercial aspects. Consider what makes your product unique, why users should choose it, and who your target audience is. If you're thinking of turning your project into a business, ask yourself whether people are willing to pay for your product, what you consider success, and who your potential customers are.

Example questions to think about:

  • What can your product do better than anyone else?
  • Are people willing to pay for this?
  • Why should users choose you over the alternative?
  • What do you consider success?
  • Who will use this product?
  • Who would pay for this product?
  • Where are those users most likely to be?
  • Where are those potential customers likely to be?

Listen and Ask for Feedback:

Be proactive in seeking user feedback and open to constructive criticism. Don't assume that users have the same experiences and skills as you. Listen carefully, but remember to stay diligent in following your goals and outcomes. Encourage users to share their thoughts, and create channels for them to do so, such as forums, issue trackers, and social media.

Set a Goal and Focus on It:

Strive consistently for your vision and know when to say no. Projects that deviate too early or too often from their core purpose often struggle to gain adoption. Be mindful of feature creep and avoid chasing every shiny object or loud community voice. Establish clear goals and stick to them, ensuring that your project remains focused on its primary objectives.

Meet or Exceed Expectations:

Ensure your product does the job it was intended to do and meets minimum standards, such as security, data protection, and being bug-free. Identify your competitors' minimum requirements and make sure your product matches or surpasses them. This may seem obvious, but many projects miss the mark by overlooking the current expectations of their ideal users.

Prioritize UI/UX:

A poor user experience can negate the benefits you provide. Make it easy for new users to get started and advanced users to dive deep into the product. Collaborate with designers and UX experts to create intuitive interfaces and workflows. Provide clear documentation and tutorials to help users make the most of your product.

UX/UI: How Important Is It for Developers?
Source: UX/UI: How Important Is It for Developers? by Esaú Morais

Foster a Strong Open Source Community:

Plan and actively nurture a community from the beginning. This community will be vital for growth and awareness. Encourage community members to contribute code, documentation, and translations. Host events, webinars, and meetups to bring your community together and showcase your project's progress.

Raise Awareness:

Just because you have a kick-ass product does not mean people will use it. People not only need to be aware that your product exists, but also why it exists, and what it can do for them. Often times for open source projects, awareness is all about the community. In fact, in many circles, the community is the new marketing. To boost awareness, consider the following activities:

  • Produce relevant content: Create blogs, conference talks, tutorials, sample apps, newsjacking, and engage in social media activities geared towards education and showing people how to do amazing things with your product.
  • Develop better messaging and positioning: Ensure your README or website clearly shows the value and benefits of your product. If someone stumbles onto your project, they should be able to figure out what it does in less than 10 seconds.
  • Make it easy to use: Simplify the process for users to get started and configure your product. A smooth experience increases the chances that users will tell other people about the product and share their experiences, thereby increasing awareness.
  • Encourage testimonials and external evangelists: Satisfied users sharing their experiences and promoting your product are more convincing than maintainers or paid evangelists. Make it easy for people to share their positive experiences.

Make the Product Easier to Use:

Ease of use is a critical factor in determining whether users will adopt your software. If users struggle to understand or navigate your software, they are more likely to abandon it and look for alternatives. By making your software user-friendly, you increase the likelihood that users will choose your product over competitors and stick with it in the long run.

To make your product easier to use, focus on things like:

  1. Installation: Simplify the installation process.
  2. Sane defaults: Provide reasonable default settings.
  3. Automation: Automate repetitive tasks where possible.
  4. UI/UX: Optimize the user interface and experience.
  5. Debugging: Offer tools and documentation to assist users in identifying and resolving issues.


Successful open source projects need a healthy growing user base. That said, successful open source projects don't always translate into successful open source businesses. However, by focusing on building a kick-ass product, raising awareness, making the product easier to use, and fostering a strong open source community, you can set the stage for faster growth and be in a better place to offer a commercial offering in the future.

In a follow-up blog, we will discuss strategies for identifying where users are and how to convert a growing user base into customers.

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