Communities around mobile OS

Disclaimer : I’m not a community manager, and I don’t know a lot about community. Everything I learn is from observing other communities and being inside communities. This article reflects my own point of view, that is subjective, and may not reflect reality. Please comment about that if you want.

Community is a very important building block in a project. First, they are consumers, and can bring funds to the project. But most of the time, they are not just consumers. A community is a network of people gathered around a project. They can discuss using different medium, like a forum, social media, instant messaging, or simply in real life. They can provide feedback, as well as doing some marketing, making the project better, and more visible.

Some archetypes

I have found some classes of people in a community. They actually form a grid :

A people in a community is characterized by his or her level, and role. The level qualify how that person know the project, while the role is what that person do in this project. Here is a list of the levels :

  • The beginner is often a newcomer in the community. He or she has heard of the project, or is using it, but is kind of a newbie. He or she often joint the community for seeking help. Most of them will learn more about the project, and get an advanced level. They are also meant to take different roles.
  • The advanced <insert role here> has more experience. He or she understand how the project work, and, know advanced features. Advanced people often provide help, but in some experts topics, they are not very accurate. They might still be curious about the project and learn about these topics. They might also start being interested in the internals of the
    projects and are eager to get their hands dirty.
  • The expert <insert role here> know every small details about the project (or a part of it). They can answer nearly all questions, and are very good at it. In a forum, they usually have thousands of posts and as much as “thanks” mentions.

And here is a list of the different roles I have found :

  • The user is the most basic role. An user uses the project, and may interact with other users in different topics. Often, an user seeks or provide help about how to use the project.They also provide feedbacks to the contributors since they cannot really improve the project themselves.
  • The contributor is a more important role in the community, and depending to the project, he or she can be either an employee or a partner (in a company), or a volunteer (in an OSS project for example). Contributors build and enhance the project, adding new features. They also listen to the users and try to implement their suggestions.
  • The advocate know the project very well, but he or she do not improve it. Instead, he or she really likes to talk about the project, and to communicate around it. His or her role is to convince others to use it, or at least to take a look at it. The advocates simply bring free advertisement.

We then have these kind of people in a community :

  • Beginner, advanced and expert user
  • Contributor and expert contributor
  • Advocate and expert advocate

I think that a beginner cannot endorse the role of either contributor or advocate since he or she do not know the project well. But some of them actually take these role, and proclaim themselves expert in this domain, even if it is not the case.

Communities around mobile OS … and some others projects

A commercial project : the iPhone

The iPhone / iOS community is very wide. A lot of forums, blogs are dedicated to its community. iPhone community is mostly composed of users (as defined before), some of them are advanced, some of them are experts, but the vast majority are simple users. It is because iPhone targets everybody, by providing product that is “intuitive”, simple to use, and by providing some powerful services that are still very accessible, such as the iCloud.

Even if there are many media to communicate between the iPhone community, like forums, blogs, and also IRL, the iPhone community is not very interconnected. Many iPhone users do not feel the need to meet the community, in order to have, for example, better apps, or a better knowledge of their device.

Apart from the developers in Apple, there are plenty of contributors too, that are the apps developers. Since the only way to provide apps is through Apple App Store, there is a lot of competition against them. There are also some “contributors”, that tries to improve the iPhone’s core OS, by bringing, for example, a better multitasking system. They are actually those who are doing the Jailbreak. So, the iPhone contributors are split into three different channels : Apple, official developers, and “hack”.

What Apple succeeded in is to gather a large group of advocates. With their advertisement, and user experience, showing that their device have something premium, they implemented the idea that the iPhone is something really exceptional, and that everybody should use it. Those who have the iPhone have a tendancy of showing others what their device can do, and what others cannot. (This was the case some years ago, but less now).

So, for the iPhone, we have a lot of users, mostly beginners and advanced, and advocates, as well as a decent number of contributors, but they are not really organized in a big network. Contributors mostly work alone or in small groups, users do not always communicates to each others etc. iPhone community’s strength is the number of advocates. Actually, Apple is now seen as the church of the XXIe century !

An open source project : Android

Of cause, the iPhone is always opposed to Android, and I’m not going to forget it.

When Google created (actually bought) Android, they wanted it to be open-source at the beginning. Thanks to that, from the beginning, a number of contributors found their place in Android community. Android developers praise the SDK, that is really easy to understand, and they also praise the system to be OSS. A lot of developers are also enhancing the core OS, like Cyanogen, or MIXI, that are very popular ROMs.

Android users seems to be more organized. It is because Android not being as user friendly as iOS. Most of Android users are actually advanced users, that know what a ROM is, or at least, what a package is. The community seems to be more organized than the iPhone one, since there is more need to ask for help.

Since Android is shipped phones manufactured by many companies, I have seen less Android advocates. Samsung advocates exists, but Android advocates, not really …

The Android community is then a big network of users of different levels, as well as an active group of contributors, that seems to communicate more easily with the users, and a few advocates. Android community’s strength is the network of people willing to improve the user experience, developing new launchers, changing the core OS etc. as well as an important network of people willing to help.

Nokia Internet Tablets

I have to talk about Nokia Internet Tablets, because … because I love my N950, and because of Jolla.

The community around Maemo (the OS that all NIT run) are really not the same compared to iPhone and Android. First, NIT were not designed for mass-market, and were always a niche product, so the community around cannot be as big as those of the big two. But I have found it nearly as active as the two others.

This is mainly because of the products, that normal people may not be able to use easily. The NIT run Maemo Linux, and they have a tendency of gathering Linux enthusiasts around them, ie some advanced users. Moreover, since Maemo being made of ~90% of OSS components, they are easily hackable. There are no need of unlocking the bootloader, or jailbreak (except for the N9(50) series).

The community around Maemo is quite atypical. Many advanced users, but most of them can also be seen as contributors, since nearly all the community try to do some hacking on the various NIT, to support it (CSSU) to improve it etc. It is very active, and the developers have a strong place inside.

NIT’s legacy

It is very likely that Jolla will pick Maemo community. As with iPhone and Android, they have to profit from their community, but unlike them, their community will be small, although active. In order to satisfy the community, and make it grow, Jolla have to identify their target, and create a product that match them.

They do not have to forget that people around Maemo are Linux enthusiasts, people who want to be free and have control on their device. They might be afraid of apps leaking their private data, as well as companies lock-in. Maemo community is also composed of a lot of hackers, that are willing to improve the product, by bringing apps, but not only. The recent hacks by MAG to add toggles in the status menu of the N9, or the Meecast team that are removing the Accuweather applet to put their
own, shows that the Maemo community really want their device to be fully customizable.

As a member of Maemo community, I really want Jolla to match these points :

  • As few non OSS components as possible
  • For non OSS components (UI for example), provide a way to replace it, or to extend it very easily. (Example : adding new screens, removing some components etc.) I really wanted some documented interfaces to do that for example.
  • No lock-in, as in the N9
  • Maybe some tool to track access to private data
  • And, most important thing, listen the the community feedback, and don’t hesitate to take the work of the community and integrate it in the OS.

As iPhone is a sort of advocate-centered community, and Android an user-centered, I hope Jolla community will be a contributor-centered community. This can only profit for both Jolla and it’s community.


One thought on “Communities around mobile OS

  1. Interesting article. I really hope Jolla will make a real open product better than the one Nokia did. Nokia did a great job but there are more closed parts than in android. Hopefully the jolla devices will be based on current hardware and open enough to hack on them.

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