See all posts

9 min read

Building Open Source Communities: Lessons from Temporal's Dev Advocate Rain Leander [VIDEO]

Proprietary software has a problem: It's largely focused on achieving the business goals of a company, which can limit its true potential. Open source software eschews traditional proprietary limitations and offers key advantages to builders that go way beyond a single business.

For instance, open source software:

  • Encourages innovation through collaboration.
  • Enables greater efficiency in response to security issues.
  • Reduces bias by incorporating a diversity of people and their perspectives.
  • Broadens distribution through contributors and their networks.

Contributing to an open source community and to open source projects brings together professional software developers, daily builders, hobbyists, and fans who all bring different perspectives, experiences, and talents to a problem.

At this year’s All Things Open (ATO) conference, Common Room’s Head of Community Rebecca Marshburn partnered with Rain Leander, Developer Advocate at Temporal, for a discussion on how to build enduring open source communities.

Below, we share highlights from the discussion and include additional details and insights that weren’t covered during the conversation.

Best practices for building an open source community

Community is an integral part of any open source project—it can be both a physical and virtual place for people to come together to build on an idea, solve a problem, and further innovate. Some well-known open source communities include the Apache Software Foundation, Linux Foundation, Mozilla Foundation, and OpenStack.

Following a few best practices can help an open source community reach the “gold standard” and endure for the long run. Those fundamental best practices are:

  • Make it easy to join and use. You’ll need to meet your members where they are by allowing them to learn about your open source projects in the manner that works best for them. This could mean using both written and video formats to help members understand the goals, details, guidelines, and expectations of a community and the projects it builds and supports.
  • Be clear on contribution expectations. Those seeking to contribute to an open source community and its projects should clearly understand how they can get involved. Provide codes of conduct and guidelines that explain the best way for members to participate, contribute, give and get feedback, and resolve conflict.
  • Prioritize inclusion. A top-tier open source community makes people feel included and safe in order to support greater knowledge sharing. Establishing an inclusive space requires doing things like creating and enforcing a public community Code of Conduct, acknowledging silent participants through direct messages, using anonymous polls to understand the community pulse, and offering channels for members to share private feedback with community hosts.
  • Build personal relationships. Communication is essential for helping contributors build personal relationships and trust with one another. This helps contributors feel acknowledged, continue to be excited to contribute, and better understand each other’s approach and point of view if there is a community conflict. To facilitate relationship building, try using discussion prompts, conducting regular virtual chats or meetups, or establishing a public feedback forum where members can participate on a casual but consistent basis.
  • Create a safe environment. Create, widely publicize, and continue to iterate on a Code of Conduct (CoC) with your community members so every contributor clearly understands your community’s expectations for acceptable behavior. You must also create, widely publicize, and iterate on easy and clear ways to report unacceptable behavior to community hosts so contributors understand where they can go and what they can expect if a conflict arises. Some Codes of Conduct we admire that offer a great place to borrow and build from include:
    • Contributor Covenant – A CoC designed for open source communities.
    • Django Project – A high-level Python web framework that has a great default CoC.
    • GitHub – The hosting platform has a great community CoC template you can use to get started.

Before launching your open source community

Preparation is key before you launch an open source community. There are a few things you should do prior to launch to set your community up for success.

Understand that an MVP is not an MVC

An MVP is a minimum viable project. Code is, by default, copyrighted. So to establish an MVP you’ll simply need to acquire an open source license. But to set up an MVC (minimum viable community), you’ll need to incorporate the best practices listed above into your project. Beyond that, you’ll also want to determine how you’ll build and maintain your community, develop contribution guidelines, and identify metrics for success.

For example, creating an MVC can mean setting up your communication channel (Discord, Slack, Discourse, or others), writing a welcome message (leveraging automations when possible), and providing information pertinent to the community like location, purpose, and the Code of Conduct. Rain shared a checklist on GitHub that you can use as a point of reference when setting up your MVC.

Disseminate messaging

At most companies - including those developing proprietary software - not all team members have access to internal organizational conversations held by leadership or adjacent teams. While businesses can survive doing this, it’s troublesome for the health and longevity of an open source community.

Outcomes and decisions from community conversations, whether occurring at a virtual meeting not everyone could attend, in a DM, or between two contributors who saw each other in person, should be posted in a central public place so other members still have visibility into the community’s direction and understand why decisions were made.

This means recording video calls, publishing minutes, or writing summaries of conversations and resulting decisions after the fact. Robust documentation can provide insights so that external contributors can stay updated with the latest happenings, feel informed to discuss or help shape the next decision, and raise their hand with context if they disagree with something.

Identify metrics

Identifying metrics is particularly pertinent for those needing to demonstrate the value of community to C-level executives or potential partners and sponsors. How do you plan to gauge the success of your open source community? Will it be by the level of engagement, number of new members, or perhaps member retention? 

It’s important to identify metrics that will be used to determine success. So too is understanding that metrics sometimes change. Metrics that were once important, like GitHub stars for some projects, may become less essential as other indicators, like gaining or losing contributors. Consider what is fundamentally important to your community, start by measuring that, and be ready to re-evaluate your metrics when necessary.

A few key points to remember

Building an open source community that endures requires consistent effort and maintenance, but you can do it by implementing the key best practices we cover here and keeping these final points in mind to avoid ‘gotchas’:

  • Remember the importance of internal education and documentation. As your open source community grows, people will contribute, build, and deliver at different levels of quality. Documentation aligns member expectations and provides them with the education necessary to successfully contribute and understand why something was rejected if that happens.
  • Interpersonal communication is critical. Establish a Code of Conduct and make sure at least three people share community leadership responsibilities at the maintainer or organizational level to enforce it. Distributing official maintainer work across at least three people helps prevent any individual from burning out, creates a tie breaking vote, and allows for one person to take the role of moderator during conflicts.
  • Diversity is your advantage. Incorporate diverse voices into your community to encourage innovation, reduce bias, respond faster to concerns, and broaden distribution.

Temporal, Common Room, and open source communities

Check check. Check one two. Due to a few technical hiccups and a reduced timeframe, Rain and Rebecca didn’t cover everything they intended to during their talk. Specifically, they didn’t chat about how Temporal leverages Common Room to manage and measure the success of its community. To help round out their discussion, we share their initial discussion notes below.

Common Room is the intelligent community growth platform that leverages AI/ML to surface timely insights, automate manual work, help you nurture and support your members, and measure the impact of your community wherever your members are.

Temporal hosts an active, healthy, and continually growing community, and they use Common Room to help manage their member relationships, identify new organizations to partner with, and provide metrics that help them understand their growth patterns across their members and product users. Common Room also helps Temporal’s cross-functional teams understand the impact and importance of the community—from Developer Advocacy to Sales to Marketing, Temporal’s teams collaborate more effectively, with real-time insights, to deliver more contextual and timely conversations and information to their members.

Common Room has helped customers like Temporal achieve other business goals as well, including accelerated time-to-close, greater feature adoption and stickiness, and new account revenue growth. Through cohort-based analyses, we've found:

  • Community accelerates business. 72% of community-led growth deals closed within 90 days vs. 42% of marketing and sales-led deals.
  • Community leads to greater adoption. Product ambassadors, or champions, who attended one or more community events used twice the product features.
  • Community contributes to new business. One Common Room customer saw over 500 organizations engage in their community before appearing in their CRM system, which resulted in over $5 million ARR.

To see more community benchmarks and insights, read our free 360: The Community-Led Growth Report and check out our blog post and corresponding guide for talking about community metrics with your CxO.

Building a community is an ongoing process—it’s also key to creating an open source project, organization, or business that endures. If you’d like to see the discussion in full, watch the All Things Open discussion between Rebecca and Rain.


To learn more about how Temporal uses Common Room, watch our conversation with Tim Hughes, Temporal's Head of Sales. Are you looking to intelligently engage, grow, and support your community? Try Common Room for free today.