Every morning, I wake up and check our support ticket system.
Every morning, we have somewhere between a dozen and two dozen emails from people in India. There's also a smattering of emails from Africa, South-east Asia and Eastern Europe.
The trouble is, through no fault of their own, none of these people are paying members and probably never will be.
We have one of the best value membership plans around at $25 per month, but that's a lot of money when you come from a country where the average income per month is $100. It's even a lot of money if you're unemployed or disabled in a first world country like the the United States and need to survive on $500 per month.
However, we chose to be in the open source business and to focus entirely on open source products. We doubled down on that by calling ourselves "Open Source Training".
Still, we're not making our work available in a truly open source way. We're not available to a large portion of our potential audience, including many who need our help the most.
Training as a Service and open source
I consider training companies like ours to be TaaS (Training as a Service) sites and very similar to SaaS (Software as a Service) sites.
For both TaaS and SaaS companies, there's a potential conflict with the open source philosophy. Dries Buytaert explained why:
"Almost all Software as a Service providers employ a proprietary model -- they might allow you to export your data, but they usually don't allow you to export their underlying code. While a lot of these services might be built on Open Source components, they have a lot more in common with proprietary software vendors than Open Source projects or companies."
You could easily modify that for training sites like ours:
"Almost all Training as a Service providers employ a proprietary model -- they might allow you to export your knowledge, but they usually don't allow you to export their underlying material. While a lot of these services might be built on Open Source components, they have a lot more in common with proprietary training vendors than Open Source projects or companies."
Should everyone open source?
I'd say yes, but only because I believe in the benefits of open. One of the founders of GitHub has a great post on the benefits of open sourcing your business. They open source everything except the things that "represent core business value."
However, it's also perfectly valid to take the attitude that, "we're a business, pure and simple". Companies such as Lynda.com do this and that's a perfectly valid path. They never started as an open source company and they cover 1001 topics that have nothing to do with open source.
We chose open source and the value behind it.
How much of our work is currently open?
Here's a list of what we currently provide for anyone who visits our site:
- All our blog posts. There's around 800 posts currently. Many have been re-used for official project documentation.
- All our support forum posts. There's over 60,000 posts in there. All of the answers we've given are freely available.
- Several Joomla extensions and a WordPress plugin.
- Our class on K2 for Joomla.
That's a start, but I'd like to go further.
Our New Years Resolution
My 2013 resolution for our company is for us to try and push the envelope and open more of our training.
I want us to open as much of our training as possible while still continuing to grow and have a successful business.
How much can we open? I have a good idea, but won't fully know yet until we've tested various options. It's going to be a balancing act. We're going to experiment and find out.
We're also going to have to focus and add a lot more core value for those people who are paying members.
Hopefully 2013 will be a great year for both paying and non-paying visitors to OSTraining.