At lunch today, I sat in on a presentation by Red Hat community architect Karsten Wade about open source community-building best practices. Karsten referenced a concept he attributed to Greg DeKoenigsberg, who I believe may be the most talented community architect on the planet. The idea was crazy simple, and it was the first time I’d heard it:
Think of good community work as money you’d put in a bank.
Do really helpful things in the communities you participate in, things that make those communities more successful. If you continue to make these positive karma deposits for a long period of time, the balance in your community karma account will go up. Why do you want a lot of good karma in your account?
For a rainy day, of course!
Every company has times when, for one reason or another, they can’t (or don’t) put their best foot forward. Even the best community citizens (and Red Hat is one of the best, according to Matt Asay “Red Hat is considered the paragon of open-source virtue.”) have bad days.
That is precisely when you make a withdrawal from your community karma account.
If your balance is high, you are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt when trouble arises. If your balance is low or you have a negative balance, well, not so much. If you start making too many withdrawals (i.e. doing a lot of dumb stuff) and don’t make enough deposits, you will start having problems effectively engaging in that community.
I don’t know how that could be any simpler. Or more true. Nice one, Greg.
The other thing that resonated with me from this presentation was to document the decision. Even if the decision was made in an non-transparent way, it is important to document it for the communities’ behalf in order to get your karma points back up.