13 December 2023

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

By Ronald Smith

Open source software has played a major role in advancing information technology, creating unprecedented opportunities. Just imagine how startups and small businesses can leverage free content management systems like Drupal or WordPress, or how Linux distributions offer free desktop environments.

When we download open source software from platforms like Sourceforge, GitHub, or the WordPress Plugin Repository, it’s important to remember that these tools are typically developed and maintained by dedicated volunteers in their spare time. So when we use open source software, we become more than just users – we become an integral part of the Open Source Community.

When I think about the success of the open-source movement, I realize how much it relies on all of us who use it. It’s like having our very own project to improve and make a difference. So, let’s take a moment to consider what we can do to help make open-source products – like software, plugins, themes, code snippets, blogging platforms, and operating systems – even better.

With Christmas just around the corner, I want to talk about how we can give back to the Open Source Community. The great thing is, we can give as much or as little as we have the time and capacity for. Every little bit helps!

1. Share positive reviews of our favorite software

Open source developers don’t typically get paid for their work, which means they rely on other forms of motivation. Sadly, many of them have experienced that people are more likely to leave negative reviews than positive ones. So why not take a moment to publicly appreciate and recognize the open-source software we love? It can make a big difference to the developers and encourage them to keep doing what they do.

When I think about it, this natural tendency for people to express their anger and frustration more quickly than their satisfaction makes sense. I mean, if I’m using a software that doesn’t work or confuses me, I’m going to be pretty vocal about it.

But let’s think about this from another perspective. You know what can really bring down the spirits of open source developers? Getting very few positive reviews. I mean, think about it. They put in all this hard work to create a theme, plugin, or software, and then hardly anyone takes the time to leave a positive comment. That’s gotta hurt.

So here’s a thought: if you stumble upon a great theme, plugin, or software, take a moment to show some love to the developers. Leave them a positive review on their website. Even if they don’t respond, trust me, they’ll appreciate it. And you know what? Christmas can be a perfect time to surprise them with a heartfelt review as a gift.

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

2. Before giving negative reviews, ask yourself some important questions

Sometimes things don’t go as planned, and that’s okay. It’s not always the fault of the software itself. There could be other factors at play, like issues in our own local environment or incompatibility with other software we’re using. There are many variables to consider.

Before resorting to leaving a negative review, it’s crucial to approach the situation with thoughtfulness and understanding. Remember, the software we receive is created by a community of volunteers, and they provide it to us for free. So, instead of seeing ourselves solely as customers, it’s important to recognize that we’re also peers and members of this Open Source Community.

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

When you come across a problem with open source software that you downloaded from online platforms, it’s tempting to immediately leave a clever one-star review. But before you do that, I want to tell you a better approach. First, take the time to tell the developers exactly what the issue is. Be detailed and precise in your description. And if you have questions or need assistance, reach out to the support forum. Trust me, most developers are quick to respond and genuinely want to help.

3. Make it easy for developers to understand and reproduce bugs

Whether you have access to a support forum, bug tracking system, or can contact the developers directly through email or social media, it is incredibly important to describe your problem in great detail. Reporting a bug properly is an art in itself and can make a world of difference for developers. So, let’s take a moment to think about how we can compose a bug report that is helpful and effective.

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

When I encounter a bug, I find it helpful to document the steps I took before encountering the issue. It’s important to understand exactly how the malfunction occurred and what other software or plugins were running at the same time. Sometimes, it’s also useful to know the platform, operating system, and device I was using.

However, it’s not very helpful when bug reports or reviews simply state that a plugin or software is terrible. It’s important to provide specific details and information so that developers can effectively address the issue.

4. Engage in support forums

If we have been using a particular software, plugin, theme, or blogging platform for a while, we have the opportunity to contribute to the community by sharing our knowledge with less experienced users. Many websites that offer open source resources have support forums where anyone can join and participate.

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

Even if we’re not developers, we can still make a valuable contribution by answering non-technical questions in support forums. It’s not just about helping others, but also about keeping our own knowledge up to date.

5. Help spread the word about software we love

When we come across something we really like, we can show our support for the Open Source Community by giving it free coverage or promotion. If we have a blog, or write for someone else’s, all we have to do is write an interesting post about it. Here at usamerica.com, we’ve done this many times and will continue to do so in the future.

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

If you don’t have a blog, you can still help out by spreading the word about your favorite software on social media. This not only benefits open source developers, but also others who are looking for good software for their specific needs.

Here’s another tip: when making feature requests, it’s important to be thoughtful and considerate. By showing developers that we understand and appreciate their work, we can provide them with valuable ideas on how to improve the software.

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

Unfortunately, a lot of users don’t really act respectfully when they make feature requests. Some of them even leave negative reviews for plugins that work perfectly well just because they don’t have the features they want.

This kind of behavior drives away many talented developers from open source. If we want the community to thrive, we need to treat developers as partners and ask for features with respect.

7. Give software testing a try

Software needs thorough testing, and if we have some free time or are particularly interested in a plugin or an app, we can help by becoming a volunteer software tester. Open source teams often announce testing opportunities on their websites, in newsletters, or on their social media profiles.

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

Let’s take the WordPress Theme as an example. It offers developers the opportunity to test their latest default theme called Twenty Sixteen. They even provide detailed instructions on how the testing process works. By participating in these tests, we not only offer our help but also gain valuable insights into the development process and the software in question.

8. Share a patch or a new feature

Open source teams are always eager to welcome new developers. If we don’t have the time or desire to start our own open source project, we can still make a significant contribution by sharing patches for existing bugs or proposing enhancements for improvement. To do this, we usually need to create a patch file that outlines the changes we’ve made.

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

The WordPress team makes it quite clear how to submit a patch using the SVN version control system that WordPress uses. But what if we want to contribute to a GitHub project? Well, here’s a guide on how we can make a pull request.

Now, creating patches requires coding, so it’s something only recommended for developers.

There’s more to usable software than just code, though. It also needs easily understandable documentation. And in a globalized world, it also needs translations.

Luckily, most open source teams allow users to edit their existing documentation and add new information to it. Just think about the WordPress Codex. And we don’t even have to tackle big tasks. We can help by simply fixing typos and misinformation.

Hey, did you know that we can team up to make our favorite software and apps available in different languages? It’s a pretty cool way to contribute, especially if English isn’t your first language. I mean, who wants to miss out on all the awesome apps and software just because they can’t understand English, right?

10 Ways You Can Make a Difference in The Open Source Community

When it comes to translating software, we can make the process easier by using apps like Poedit. These apps allow us to translate just a few sentences at a time, so we don’t have to do a lot of work. Even small contributions can make a big difference.

10. Keep using Open Source Software

If we want to support and nurture the open source community, we should actively use open source software and be open to trying new ones. If we come across something great, we should share it with others so they can benefit too.

Even if we are simply enthusiastic users who respect and appreciate open source software, we are already making a valuable contribution.