Fostering communities around development kits

September 15, 2015 OpenSystems Media

One element that makes the maker/development board space great is the communities. There is always someone who can help you with an issue, a plethora of information about a kit, and endless projects for inspiration. But these communities don’t just appear out of thin air after a new kit is introduced. Dianne Kibbey, Global Head of Community at element14 talks features and strategies that make for effective and thriving communities.

 

What are the essential elements of a good dev kit community?

Every strong dev kit community needs in-depth content that members can engage with. This is a mix of technical specifications and user experiences with the dev kit. For example, our element14 Design Center combines technical data with a wide array of user-generated material. In addition, coding examples, polls, and 360-degree videos and images are all great ways to generate conversation.

Another strategy we use to spark conversation in the element14 community is asking specific members to develop projects using the new kits and write blog posts about their experience. This then fosters great comments and questions as members share their experiences. We’ve also featured polls asking questions designed to drive conversation such as, “What are the three elements every basic dev kit needs?” All of this content combines to create a lively community in which members are willing to bounce ideas off of each other. The kit itself also plays a big part in establishing the community since that is what the conversation is centered around.

What are the challenges of managing a dev kit community?

Development kit technology evolves so rapidly that you are always faced with the challenge of keeping up-to-date technical data, projects, and coding examples for your community members. You may have produced content focusing on a specific dev kit, but once a revision is introduced you may need to retest it and generate new content. These fast-changing technologies require community managers to regularly monitor whether or not the content and discussion within a community is drawing interest from members and developers. If not, fresh content should be produced in order to foster conversation.

What are the best ways to foster developer participation/contribution?

Giving more control to community members is a great way to build credibility and encourage more participation. When you enable members to take charge, they have the opportunity to help each other more effectively and mentor less-experienced members who might be new to the community or to engineering in general. This encouragement welcomes new members and gives them a way to quickly become familiar with different topics being discussed.

Turning over the community to members also results in more credible content and discussion. Engineers, both professional and self-taught, want to hear from their peers when it comes to dev kits and other board-level technologies. Empowering members to engage with the community on their own terms is crucial to creating genuine conversation and increased participation among members who otherwise might not have voiced their opinions.

What do professionals need in a community compared to hobbyists?

Professionals typically need more in-depth technical specs and this extends to areas such as legislative and compliance data, something many hobbyists might not need to worry about. Another important thing professionals might be concerned with is figuring out how to put their ideas into production. The Business of Engineering section of the element14 community helps professionals develop the final iteration of their original prototype and bring their product to market once they perfect the design. For professionals there is much more of an interest in real world applications, price, and availability of dev kits – three huge factors that impact whether or not a product is successfully launched.

New development kits are coming out all the time. What are the challenges and strategies to creating a community around a dev board/kit?

One of the biggest challenges to creating a dev kit community consists of bringing new products to market and figuring out a way to overcome the fact that engineers can be slow to adopt emerging technologies. Not many community members are going to rush out to buy a new development kit until it is put through its paces. We want to give engineers the chance to try out new development kits so that by the time they launch, every possible question about them has been asked and answered. The key is identifying influencers within your network and allowing members to provide an honest assessment of the dev kit before making it more widely available.

When we launch a new development kit in the element14 community we give engineers an opportunity to try it out first. Our RoadTests enable our community members to test out new products and provide valuable feedback that ultimately help a supplier improve their final products. We also host educational webinars and videos that cover a wide range of engineering topics, including the newest technologies and latest design trends.

How do you expand a dev kit’s community? Is size important?

Growing a dev kit community is all about promotion. You can’t simply build the community and expect it to flourish on its own. One way in which you can raise awareness of your community is through social media. We often find that our strongest community members at element14 are also the most active on social media. Sharing content across multiple channels will help to attract members and grow the community over time.

While size is something you should consider, interesting content and engagement from all members is what will end up creating quality discussion. If you have 500,000 members, but only five of them regularly contribute, you don’t have much of a community.

Do strong communities make or break a dev board/kit?

They definitely can. With more than 350,000 members, we’ve seen the element14 community have an impact on the success or failure of a new dev board. If a product comes to market and a community finds issues, there is a possibility that the dev board may not recover from member criticism. It’s similar to social media in that once a review of the dev board is made public there is not much that can be done to remove it. There is a balance you have to strike by making sure to include a respectable product in addition to forming a community that enables members to test that product and honestly discuss the positive and negative aspects of it. If you don’t have a quality product in a community, you’re opening yourself up to a degree of risk.

What is the result of a good community?

The best communities are those that offer members the opportunity to shape the future of engineering and technology. It can be easy to focus on a specific dev kit, but the content and discussion between members should dive deeper into how these technologies impact the world around us. For example, element14′s Engineering a Connected World report went outside of the community to survey 3,500 consumers on a wide range of innovations, such as wearable technology, autonomous cars, and the IoT. This report not only inspired a series of new design competitions centered around solving real-world problems, like vertical farming, but it gave our members the chance to step back and examine questions and topics that extend beyond a single dev kit. That’s where the real power of a good community lies.

Monique DeVoe, Managing Editor
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