A community of technology community managers, leaders, and builders.

2B: Managing non-technical communities in FOSS

Community management in non-technical communities


  • Medical professionals working on systems

PKP (Karen, Alec)

  • working with academic in publishing academic journals. community trying to balance non-technical with technical participants. Challenge to build in both kinds.

Eric - Centre for Disease Control

  • Learning about online community management


  • Graduate student


  • Lego Mindstorms community
  • Typically techie, but looking at bringing in artists / non-techs. Hard to find them on tech forums.


  • Past job with non-profit managing non-tech volunteers in tax preparation for low-income
  • Online collaboration and knowledge sharing


  • Day job: non-profit technology network (NTEN)
  • Sideline in bike advocacy; online organization that ends up on street
  • On the board for an independent publishing group

Roland (Oracle)

  • Large number of technical communities, but also some non-tech e.g. for applications in their stack (Eloqua [?] marketing automation…)


  • QA work & outreach for LibreOffice
  • Also involved in other orgs that could use tools; learning curve; gaps


  • Fly on the wall. Works on Linux kernel. Buried in tech.

Laurel (Adobe Social)

  • Very new community. Very technical, along with very non-technical.
  • Wants to take a load off support by encouraging community help


  • Technology consulting for non-profits
  • Working with non-tech people trying to integrate technology into workflow/communication


  • Technical person by nature, trying to understand non-technical people

Channels of communication (tools)

  • Chat room: Campfire
    Mix of forum, mailing lists, Q&A; may become exclusive to non-technical folk once many technical users are active. How to be inviting to diverse groups?
  • Topliners.com example. Marketing automation
  • Successful business-oriented non-technical community.
    Imagine it, do it, code it…ideas, non-technical problems with implementation etc, developers space

Community management - site organization

  • Provide Guardrails
  • Landing pages tweaked for the type of participant
  • Calls to action (“do it” “code it” - verb/action-based
  • Naming and road signs need to be clear.
  • Danger of silos? Not so much; moderators are present and active.
  • Community managers need to be credible – need to come from the community they’re in.
  • Are community managers who come from a tech background risking alienating non-techies unintentionally by not provinding a sufficiently familiar “home”?
  • Contacting users who haven’t been active for a while
  • Keeping the drudgery out of the way (signing up for accounts…)

Bringing in very non-technical people in using your service/software. Best solutions were not very good from technical perspective, but they integrated well with what the volunteers were already used to. Targeting key people to teach them to use the centralized information system (like the website).
Delegate responsibility according to existing flow of information. For example, mirror existing (off-line?) communication – phone / slips of paper – with online system. “It’s the best way to do it – if they’ll do it.”

  • First Time User Interface (FTUI)
  • People might need to go thorugh something 2/3x before retention
  • Seemingly tool-based concern, but may improve resulting engagement
  • People can even find Hangouts to be too complicated/technical
    Need to make it “beautiful”? What does “beautiful” mean?
  • What are you trying to do?
  • To improve productivity?
  • To meet new goals by creating a community?
  • Getting a community to engage in a certain way?
  • Agile development: small group, simple solution. MVP. F
  • Is there a inherent mismatch when talking FOSS (meritocracy, fix-it-yourself) and non-tech users who tend to treat software/computers as black boxes?


  • You (e.g. developers) don’t think/see the same as your other communities.
  • Mirroring what people are already doing / already used to. Who talks to who, how they talk (phomne…)
  • First dates before moving in.
  • Mirroring what people are already used to.
  • (Notes need work – connectivity broke down here.)
Thanks to for being the kind sponsor for this forum!