How Not to Get Help from an Open Source Project

Other people have posted about this before, but it is a lesson that bears repeating. Getting help from an open source project is not like getting help from a commercial software company. In the latter case, one has exchanged money for software and so can expect a certain amount of assistance.

Open source is different. In most cases the majority of the people who work on a project are volunteers. Complaining about the timeliness of free support from such a community is like getting a free Mercedes and complaining about the color.

First off, anyone who deals with forums on-line, open source or otherwise, should read Eric Raymond’s seminal “How to Ask Questions“.

Second, here’s how to get someone like me to *not* help you.

On the OpenNMS discuss list, we’ve had a user post 53 e-mails since Thanksgiving. The last several have concerned monitoring MySQL with OpenNMS. There are a number of ways to monitor MySQL using the platform, and people have been trying to help him out.

Unfortunately, we get replies like this:


As most people know, posting in all caps is the equivalent of yelling. Yelling that you wanted a silver Mercedes when you were given a black one is rather rude and probably has a negligible effect on getting a different color. And don’t get me started on top posting.

But I guess the mailing list wasn’t good enough for this user. He decided to call our office.

Now, we are mainly located on the east coast of the US, so calling me numerous times, starting at 2:28am, is also not going to win you any friends.

But hey, there is always Facebook, right? Posting something like:

you all are looking good but i am still not satisfied with opeenms because opennms help is not good like microsoft. i want to get the license of it bus my initial requirment is to monitor mysql databases in it which is not yet complete

will get results, right? After all, companies like Microsoft are renowned for their high level of support, and I’m sure posting a comment on Microsoft’s Facebook page would cause hundreds of people to drop what they are doing to help you.

When all else fails, you can post a message on the OpenNMS Group contact page (which, of course, specifically mentions not to do this for support):

I am very dishard about the opennms help. I have submit my problem a lot of time but no proper solution were recived yet. why? My problem is i want to monitor mysql table spaces etc in opennms using jetty is it possible or not just tell me yes or no

So I replied: “Yes”.


Look, literally tens of millions of dollars *that I can document* have gone into making OpenNMS, and that doesn’t include the tens of millions of dollars worth of donated time and effort. Throwing an online hissy fit won’t get you help any faster.

And I hate the “well, if you just get OpenNMS running for me I’m sure I’ll buy a support contract later” line. It’s like going to the doctor and asking him to treat you for free on the off chance that if you feel better you might pay him. I can count the number of times someone has led with that line and actually bought a contract on each one of my rippling, six-pack abs.

When I first started out providing services for OpenNMS, I got a call from Motorola. They were considering OpenNMS, and they wanted me to come out and show it to them (i.e. fly to Texas). I pointed them to our “Getting to Know You” package where I would fly out and spend a couple of days showing them how it works on their network. They were aghast. How could I possibly ask them to pay for something like that? Even pointing out the fact that OpenNMS was free software and that once installed they could both own their solution totally and not have to pay license fees couldn’t get them past the fact that I was asking them to pay for “presales”.

Trust me, you don’t need customers like that. Customers that “get it” will have a competitive advantage. This will eventually allow them to provide better service to their customers (either through a better solution or cost savings put to other use) and thus distance themselves from their commercial software-using competitors.

While I doubt OpenNMS had anything do to with it, ask yourself what was the last model of Motorola mobile phone you owned? Did it come in a bag?

Please Purchase from My Competitor

Matt Raykowski (OGP) sent me a link to a “funny because it is true” blog post about the problems when there is a mismatch between a piece of software and the end user.

When I am talking to people about our OpenNMS services, I stress that if I don’t think that OpenNMS is a good fit I won’t sell to them. Since we do not charge license fees, most of our revenue comes from professional services and if there is a software/user mismatch neither of us will be happy. I will end up both losing money and having an unhappy customer – neither of which I can afford.

Check it out.

Google the Alphabet, Redux

A year ago I decided to see who “owned” each letter of the alphabet when doing a Google search. Simply go to Google, type in just one letter, and see what is suggested.

Let’s see what changes a year can make. Those with a “*” were there last year.

A – Amazon *
B – Best Buy *
C – the speed of light (Craiglist was second)
D – Durham Bulls (some still get Dictionary from last year)
E – natural logarithm (eBay is second)
F – Facebook *
G – Gmail *
H – Planck’s Constant (hotmail is second)
I – iPad (IRS drops to fifth)
J – Justin Bieber (Java is second, JCPenny from last year is fifth)
K – Kohls *
L – Lowes *
M – Mapquest (MySpace is second)
N – Netflix *
O – Orbitz *
P – Pandora (Photobucket is gone)
Q – QVC (Quotes is second)
R – REI (Redbox is second, Realtor from last year is fourth)
S – Sears (Skype is second and Southwest Airlines is gone)
T – Target *
U – USPS *
V – Verizon (Verizon Wireless, from last year, is second)
W – Walmart *
X – Xbox (xkcd is second, then XM Radio)
Y – Youtube *
Z – Zappos (Zillow is second)

So the big losers look like Photobucket and Southwest Airlines.

MySpace continues to decline, and I could never understand why Zappos wasn’t first last year (I had never heard of Zillow).

I am only vaguely aware of who Justin Bieber is, but he rules the “Js”, although Java now makes a strong showing at number two. I was also happy to see xkcd up there.

It was funny to see scientific hits, like the speed of light, coming up first, although in every case the number one from last year has simply moved down one.

The “D” was funny, since I think it is location-based. I asked a number of people on IRC and they got different things.

Anyway, until next year …


Hi, my name is Bob Taylor and I found %your site% while I was seaching in Google.

I’m writing because after reviewing your site I believe there is potential to help promote each other’s sites.

OpenNMS Looks for Pie in the Sky


PITTSBORO, NC (April 1, 2010) – The OpenNMS Group is announcing today that they are drastically changing their business model. Instead of producing the world’s first enterprise-grade network management platform that is truly open source, they’ve decided to turn their talents toward producing pizza.

The name of the project will be changed to OpenNOMS.

“Despite over 10 years as an open source project and over 5 years as a rapidly growing, profitable company, we’ve decided to follow the example of venture-backed open source firms and to adopt the ‘open core’ model,” says Tarus Balog, CEO of the new OpenNOMS Group. “Even though our bank balance kept going up, along with our taxes, everyone told us we couldn’t make money with a pure open source model. One of our analysts, Michael Coté of Redmonk, advised us to look at successful companies for our new venture. So we looked among our customers and said, hey, Papa John’s Pizza makes money, so we should bring our experience to bear on that.”

OpenNOMS will bring the open core development model to pizza, thus OpenNOMS will be available in two versions. The “community” supported pizza version will be available for free, while the enterprise pizza version, containing additional features, will be sold under a more traditional license.

“The community version will be just as satisfying as the enterprise version,” says Balog, “and is optimized for the cloud and virtualized environments, built leveraging the latest in Agile technology and DevOps trends.” The community version will to completely free, while the enterprise version will focus on those features specifically desired by larger and more profitable customers, such as crust, cheese and toppings.

In a video demonstrating the new product, people can see the immediate value open source brings to the pizza process. OpenNOMS can expedite virtual paradigms and benchmark mission-critical technologies in order to grow ubiquitous solutions and visualize visionary experiences with the final goal to repurpose value-added experiences and harness magnetic relationships.

OpenNOMS community edition is available now for download, and orders are being accepted for the enterprise edition.

About the OpenNOMS Group: Formerly the OpenNMS Group, OpenNOMS consists of people who believe that a valuable business can be built by focusing on customer needs and having fun fulfilling them. With a business model of “spend less than you earn” they have the luxury of focusing on customers and not investors, plus they can eat pizza and drink beer whenever they feel like it.

Secretary of State FAIL

One of the many things I do at OpenNMS is handle the finances. This often requires me to interact with the Federal and State governments. To say that the system could be simplified is an understatement.

For example, take this postcard I received in the mail. It was for a corporation that was dissolved in 2003, but for some reason the office of the North Carolina Secretary of State (with whom I dissolved the corporation) still thinks that it is, in some form, active.

As you can see, the card tells one not to contact the office of the Secretary, but instead to call a particular number to talk with the Department of Revenue.

Go ahead, dial it. I dare you.

It appears that the Department of Revenue didn’t pay their phone bill, and the number has been disconnected.


Sometimes movies like Brazil get it right.

Found Cat

I went to the post office today and happened to see this on the bulletin board:

It’s probably an old joke, but it made me chuckle. I wonder what the angle is for the person who posted it? Still can’t bring myself to call the number.

The Internet: Bringing People Together

I love the Internet. I just got called an asshole (well “@#*hole”) by a famous person on Twitter. Not that it is the worse thing I’ve ever been called, but I think it is delightful that someone I’ve never met is able to sum up my personality in so few characters.

The famous person is Nigel Lythgoe, once a producer of the American Idol TV show. I know him best as the producer/judge on So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD), a dance competition show that I rarely miss. As someone who knows absolutely nothing about dance, it is amazing that I like this show so much. One of the reasons is that it tends to have a nicer tone than shows like Idol, and the judges seem to realize that their final cut of contestants are all pretty damn talented, thus their criticism is constructive and every cut is a little bit painful.

Now, unless you’ve been in a cave or “hiking the Appalachian Trail”, you are aware that Michael Jackson passed away this week. At 43 I’m close enough to 50 to say that, for anyone, that is a life too short.

I was never a fan of Michael Jackson’s music, but I recognized that he was talented. A friend of mine in college who was contemporary dancer, went to see his movie Moonwalker and I was teasing her about it (where I went to college most of us were musical fascists and would deride anything that didn’t fit into our definition of “good music”). She laughed and said while that his music was definitely pop, he was an amazing dancer, and I can understand that for people in dance his passing is a great loss.

Note: for all of you geeks out there, Mr. Jackson has a patent.

Unfortunately my bullshit meter is pegged by a lot of the “tribute” stories I’m seeing on TV. Plus, I’ve been so inundated with Michael Jackson music that “Billie Jean” is currently a two-day long earworm living in my head (they even had a bluegrass version of it on Back Porch last night).

I follow Mr. Lythgoe on Twitter, and he is trying to organize a Michael Jackson tribute show for SYTYCD (and has talked about little else in the last couple of days). If anyone can do it, I expect he can, as American Idol got permission to use his music two seasons ago, and in fact they are re-running that very episode on Monday.

While I have no doubt that Mr. Lythgoe is trying to honor Mr. Jackson with the Idol repeat (the first Idol repeat in prime time, ever, I believe) and his desire to have a show dedicated to his dance styles on SYTYCD, I had the temerity to suggest on Twitter that all of this flurry of activity might look “slightly opportunistic”. It was simply my advice as an outsider that he should be aware of it. Think about it – if Mr. Jackson’s influence on dance was so important, why wait until now to have a show about it? Wouldn’t it have been at the top of the list when the producers were getting permission to use his music on Idol? I’m not saying that they shouldn’t do it, but there needs to be a certain tone around the show to prevent it from being seen as just a cheap grab at ratings.

For that I am now labeled an “@#*hole”.

Maybe I struck too close to home. Trust me, in 30 days, sad as it is, very little will be in the news about Mr. Jackson. We, as a culture, just don’t have the attention span for it. If you are in the business of news, stories about Michael Jackson are hot right now. If there will be a Michael Jackson version of SYTYCD, trust me, it’ll be as soon as it possibly can be done.

So what does this have to do with open source? Well, unpleasant as it may be, it is extremely important to listen to what your critics are saying. It is easy to dismiss them as a bunch of assholes, but you do it at your own peril. In many cases they echo the thoughts of people you need to reach, and understanding how they think is the first step.

For example, my experience with open source seems to be 180 degrees in the opposite direction from Matt Asay. For better or worse, Mr. Asay is seen as a spokesperson for open source software by some, and I have to be able to respond to his ideas, which range from the bleeding obvious to the downright asinine (with a little truth thrown in to help make them seem legit). While I try not to “feed the trolls” by commenting too much, it is important to my business to understand how people like him think.

In any case I sent that tweet to Mr. Lythgoe with the best intentions and got labeled an asshole. So be it. I would rather have my actions misunderstood and get called names than to be seen trying to make a buck off a dead guy.