Web 2.0, 53,651 and Open Source

Josh Kopelman on the Red Eye VC blog recently had a thought-provoking post that was widely discussed within the blogosphere. He stated that 53,651 people subscribe to the TechCrunch blog feed. I am one of these subscribers along with 53,650 other people who follow the web 2.0 trends closely, and most of us probably know quite a bit about Digg, MySpace, Flickr, Frappr, del.icio.us, and many other web 2.0 sites. Herein lies the problem; most of the rest of the billions of people on this earth have never heard of these sites, and we throw these terms around as if everyone else in the world is as immersed in this phenomenon as we are. Om Malik of the GigaOM blog recently realized that even many of his tech-savvy friends who read blogs and listen to podcasts are not fully aware of the web 2.0 phenomenon.

At this point, you are probably wondering if I am ever going to tie this back to open source software. This idea, that a few tech savvy early adopters do not represent the entire population of people, is also applicable to open source software. In March, I blogged about how difficult it is to get users to try a new browser (Firefox) when most people do not understand what a browser is and why they would want a different one. We get so caught up in our techie world where people understand terms like browsers, operating systems, Firefox, del.icio.us, and Flickr that we do not always think about how to reach the masses. This requires education and lots of it. A number of times recently, I have informed reasonably tech-savvy people that OpenOffice.org can actually open and save documents in Microsoft formats to clear up the common misconception that the two are completely incompatible.

If we want to drive broad adoption of open source software, we need to take the time to step back and patiently educate people in terms that they can understand without assuming that people have the same knowledge and passion about the topic as we do.