Generosity in Marketing and Open Source

Seth Godin has written a number of times about being generous, most recently differentiating between “free samples” and “generous gifts”. Seth himself has given generously and benefitted handsomely. For one, just look at his great blog to which he has posted wonderful ideas, free for the taking. Another interesting example: recently, I received a copy of The Mesh:

Apparently, I received this book because I had bought Seth’s Linchpin. Which, by the way, I received by donating to the Acumen Fund and not giving the money directly to Seth. Oh, and I think they sent me two copies instead of one.

I’ve seen a lot of “internet marketing gurus” work the “free sample” angle that Seth is talking about. They give you an ebook for free, get you on their mailing list and then try to sell you lots of random internet marketing-related crap.

Seth undoubtedly knows that all of these things that he does get people talking about him and his ideas. Ultimately, he wins (Linchpin is currently in the top 800 sellers on Amazon, nearly a year after its release). But the way he approaches things feels generous. Donating to the Acumen Fund both made me feel generous and receiving the books in exchange made me feel like Seth was generous as well. How’s that for a promotion?

Over the past decade, I’ve read a good deal about marketing and I think that Seth Godin is the most positive force in marketing today. Read his books, read his blog.

In the title, I promised to relate all of this back to open source. One thing I love about open source software is the generosity that I see there. People make open source software for all sorts of reasons. Some people kick it off specifically to support a commercial venture – a variation of the “free sample” that Seth writes about. Others just sort of toss it over the wall as if to say “hey, I’ve got this thing, maybe you’ll find it useful…”.

But, I’ve also seen quite a few open source projects where people are just trying to make the world a better place through their software. They’re not just tossing it over the wall. Instead, they’re sending a prized creation into the world and continue to nurture and support it. That takes a lot of energy and work, and it often seems like a thankless task at the time. But, you know what? I think for a great many of those projects it actually works out okay in the end. In one form or another, the people behind many of these projects find their careers heading in new, unplanned directions as a result of the work they gave freely.