Tag Archives: marketing

GNOME and how NOT to do marketing

How NOT to do it?

A simple example. Lets say you have heard of GNOME or you use it and want to downlaod the latest GNOME live CD. What would you do?

Right, you type in “gnome live cd” in a search engine like Google. Lets see what we get on February 2010:

google search result

search for "gnome live cd"

So we get essentially two top results. The first are in the GNOME Live! Wiki and the first result is the page GnomeLiveCd. If you open the page you do get a page that was last updated by me in 2007 so  about three years ago.

The other link leads to a not any more exiting webpage http://live.gnome.org/GnomeLiveCd

Marketing is no magic. Its more or less often about giving people what they expect.

If you lead people who expect to be able to download a running live cd to three year old information and none existing websites this is a #FAIL.

You can mostly forget thinking about any more marketing if you fail here.

Another failure is that GNOMEs website do not provide custom 404 pages and that just too many websites become 404 (not found). In 2008, so two years ago I reported this as a bug and provided a simple page as a solution. Nobody cared – so it was ok to LOOSE all visitors who do not find a page. Ali Abdullah talked about why this is important.

A website without 404 page cant be taken seriously in 2010 from a marketing perspective. If you take into account that fixing it would have been an one minute job you start wondering about priorities.

GNOME has taken a lot of work and efforts to start the new website with the Plone CMS: I have no idea when it will land. Right now http://www.gnome.org is not accessible. Maybe this means its already there? On the central development page in the GNOME wiki GnomeWeb you are told the new website is coming in September 2009. So so much about updated information if you really try to track down the progress and you care about the website.

Third example was the GNOME Office website, which was outdated for many years and to just resolbe this issue it tool about a year.

I could go on and on, but these are just two examples that show how NOT to do marketing on the internet – even if its “just” free software. No smart person will ever try to test GNOME again if what he finds looks so crappy.

How to do it?

Really, really simple: Provide the information the user needs – and if it is hard to find or  moved either forward to a new place. Keep information update. You do not want to discourage a user from trying out your application, desktop or whatever.

This is just my small view of the whole “marketing in internet” problem which results from my experience and after witnessing what has happened and especially not happened with the GNOME website.

I write this down, so that things change. Things do not change because you get a great new CMS. You might get it someday – but what do you do in the five years between now and then. Sure, nobody wants to see five years of stagnation, but what you can learn is that fixing the small things often still makes sense. Nobody likes to fix small things, especially men dont like it. Men like to think big. And maybe thats part of the problem: They do a lot of heavylifting and much too often find out too late that it is too often. That said I have also seen women falling in love with Plone; no idea why … 😉


Help people find what they are looking for. Most web users have simple desires on their mind like find some essential information or download a live cd. Even if you can not provide this, you can say that you do not and why. And deal with users that come to your site like something worthful that should not be wasted easily!

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GNOME: Oh dear, here they come again

I was hopeful to see some major changes in GNOME Topaz (3.0). But now I have quickly viewed the discussions on the marketing list. Especially those threads:

  1. GNOME Marketing Strategy (Was Audiences), Paul Cutler
  2. GNOME 3.0 slogans, Michael Hasselmann

PLEASE DONT (do it again)

Dont waste your time thinking again about target audiences and slogans. Some say the real target audience are distributions. But distributions care for whatever their users care. You have users – a desktop is something universal.

It doesnt work that way, that a handful of coders and other geeks randomly gather virtually and every 6 months think about some new marketing stuff. The GNOME 3.0 goals were some good direction. The problem now is to get this ideas done. I dont think GNOME will be able to do it all in one step. The problems and solutions are on the table, already. There are GNOME users – you need to communicate with them. Dont let such stuff happen like Ubuntu did with the FUSA applet.

Those discussions are fruitless and have been talked about every once in a while. They never led to anywhere. This is partly because GNOME is controlled by the coders and some major corporations like Nokia, Canonical, Red Hat or Novell, who do finance some projects and pay some high profile developers. So those two groups do set the agenda. GNOME does not and will not have any marketing of its own. It does have some accidental marketing, but this is never tough through. Who should deliver such messages? If any slogan is chosen, you really think any distributor cares about slogans?

In the past marketing has been called propaganda. Its a matter to manipulate the human mind – its neither a development model nor an organizational model.  GNOMEs organization is not very well stuffed. There is not a lot of money and there are only a handful of people doing stuff. he GNOME Board does not have a lot of power and the developers not necessrily listen to what they say. Even less is true for the GNOME marketing team. No developer really cares about what they think or write. Fact.

I think from the birth GNOME tries to be user focused, but it still struggles with this goal and if people draw a picture of GNOME the users still do not appear. Developers are important, but without the users, nobody would use the software. And GNOME is unlike OpenBSD not a project which is mainly used only by experts, but very broadly.  But this is not reflected in the development proces. I think the best thing would be to integrate the users more into development decisions. The answer is not to let some geeks define goals for the users. The users have to do that themselves. The only possibility to give feedback is the GNOME Bugzilla. But this is mostly also not very user friendly. There is no option for users to give simple feedback. A user submitting a bug report often gets a reply to try out alpha or beta versions of the software package. This cant be true! Those geeks are just way too far away of genera users to be able to feel what those might want ot need. Even worse: Why should any developer be motivated to solve any issue a user has?

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How free desktops like GNOME and KDE could improve marketing

As I have decided to become a bit more engaged in GNOME marketing by contributing ideas, working on the wiki and providing patches for the web pages I have rethought how marketing can be done by a free desktop like GNOME or KDE:

I found that there is often an important miscalculation made. Like in the GNOME live wiki there is a page TargetMarkets – but then the question “Who are we talking to?” The assumption seems to be that the target markets and the audience are the same. What is the problem with that? Well its like in some families decisions of buying a product like cars are made by women, while the buy is done by their husbands. I mean: If ISVs are one primary target group that does not mean at all that our marketing should target them! So I think often if not always one needs to talk to the end users if you want to convince other target groups.

Look at TV spots: Bridgestone runs tv ads to convince car owners to buy their tyres. But you can not buy a tyre at Bridgestone, really. The same is true for nearly all products. Sure there are the intermediaries who sell softare or install operating systems. But I think talking to all possible groups is too hard. We can even not think of all possibilities of how GNOME comes to desktops. So I now would say thinking about target markets is really a distraction. The only thing GNOME should do is to talk to everybody who is interested and try to provide them with what they need to know and want.

Actually I would also put the arguments upside down and would say that distributions are rather the ones who should go after different groups. They make the software collection that makes up their distros and they should better know their end users.

So where does this all end up?

I would recommend to drastically reduce the complexity of how marketing is thought about by focusing on the end users. In the end ever decisions to use GNOME is done by people who look at GNOME and decide that its worth using. So if GNOME is convincing to them it might be for their group as well.

OTOH I also think that thinking about target groups is something that should be more important for the development of GNOME than for marketing.Why? Because the development of GNOME should meet the needs of the actual target group. The marketing could say what they want – but it can not change GNOME to meet the needs.

So I suggest to GNOME and other free desktops like KDE that they simplify the marketing by getting in contact with the user. Both desktops absolutely fail to do so. They fail to really show how they can help the user to get productive, they fail in providing noticeable information on how to get the free desktop on their computer or to give answers to other user questions.

What are they doing? Essentially they focus 98% on developers and companies. on web sites and other marketing. But I would argue that this is development and not marketing. Also the whole approach into designing and updating websites is focusing on mere technical aspects.

I dont think what I discovered and write here is anything special or new. Its more that it dawned on me how all problems are interrelated. If you create a web site for a project it is often not the best idea to ask yourself what you have and how you can put all that on the front page. It is often better to rethink what you need to communicate on the root page – and do not forget that users are highly impatient and will simply leave the site if they do not find the information they are seeking in a short period of time.

So you can do the test and maybe pretend to be an interested GNOME user who likes to see or test GNOME. you got to www.gnome.org and then give yourself only maybe 10 seconds to find the information. You will fail here and you will fail at www.kde.org. But try it yourself. Then go to some bug commercial site and try the same and you will see that they often provide answers to the questions visitors may have in mind on their front pages. You do not need to provide actual releases – you can also point to where people can find out more or get what they want. This does not even need to be a link.

It could really be that simple. But from my perspective the problem is often rather that only few people do care about presenting this information and then the team of those who can work on the content is small – and then also the mechanism to provide changes is not straightforward. And technical discussions often are not there to help volunteers but rather to steer them away or distract from the essential idea.

I am not saying anything against development. Its one core of free software – its the product – but development should never get in the way of the message! Think from a users perspective – and if you do not want to rather stay away from marketing and web site development. This could benefit everybody.

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