Two weeks back, the cloud based systems integrator Appirio announced a new developer community called CloudSpokes. This is an attempt by Appirio to crowdsource cloud development work on public cloud platforms. They already have a good group of developers inside USA and have an offshore partner in India. They are trying to build a community so that it can also serve as a third (and possibly cheaper alternative for certain kind of development work) option for their projects. If we take out the evangelism of public cloud providers, Appirio is one company that is pushing public clouds hard into the enterprise market, may be even harder than Marc Benioff. An attempt like this from Appirio is interesting and worth a look. Even though they made their announcement couple of weeks ago, I just got a chance to have a chat with Chief Architect and Evangelist of CloudSpokes, Dave Messinger, and hence the delayed analysis.
For the public clouds to be successful, there should be large number of developers developing for the multi-tenant public cloud platforms. Even though companies like Google and Microsoft are focussing their efforts on cloud platforms now, the earlier efforts were mainly from startups like Twilio and others. In order to get a critical mass of developers around public cloud platforms, there is clearly a need for a concerted effort from the public cloud providers. Even though there are communities like Elance, TopCoder and others, there are no community dedicated to public cloud platforms with strong evangelists backing them. Since developing for cloud is different from the traditional ways of development, there is a clear need for education and training too. Existing communities may not care much about pushing the public cloud development because the big chunk of their money today is still coming from the traditional development models. This highlights the imminent need for a public cloud based developer community with focus on evangelism, education and training.
Appirio is not just a public cloud based systems integrator but also an unabashed evangelists of public clouds. If you listen to their top executives, they may even deny the existence of private cloud itself. Their very survival is dependent on the success of public cloud concept and platforms in that space. They understand that it can only happen if there are large number of developers focussing their careers on developing for public cloud platforms.
Even though they have a strong onshore and offshore development team, their success in the market requires a large army of developers. For a growing company like Appirio, it is difficult to both find good developers and then keep them on their payroll. A strong developer community around their company will help them identify talent and keep them engaged at a lower cost. The net result is CloudSpokes, a public cloud developer community initially seeded by Appirio.
Appirio will play a foundational role in managing this community and have pledged at least $1 Million in contest money in the hopes of attracting great developers into the community. They hope that this money and the interests shown by some of the cloud platform providers like Twilio will lure a critical mass of developers towards this community.
How does it work, BTW?
The community works in the following way:
- Companies who need cloud development work can sponsor a challenge on CloudSpokes, giving developers a way to earn cash rewards, test and prove their skills for badges and other recognition typical to crowdsourcing sites from the Web 2.0 era
- Challenges appear on a list visible to all developer members, along with the award amount and pre-defined success criteria so all participants are aware of how they’ll be judged
- Submissions are scored by a peer review board and awarded to the best submission. Those participating in the challenge can then see other submissions and learn from their peers
- The developer members’ public profile is updated to include challenge history, recommendations, and badges to build their profile inside the community and among potential employers
Having done similar community around open source at a much smaller scale, I am both excited and skeptical about this announcement. I will put forward some of my thoughts on this announcement here. First and, foremost, a community like this is the need of the hour for the public cloud market. Ideally, I would have loved a vendor neutral model but, in the absence of it, this is pretty close coming from a system integrator working with many different public cloud platforms. More importantly, Appirio has pledged at least $1 Million to kickstart the community and such an investment is very vital in getting the initial attention. Also, the fact that Appirio is focussed exclusively on public clouds will ensure that this community is not diluted by traditional vendors in cloud clothing. The biggest attraction for me is their plan to take the public cloud evangelism, education and training to colleges around the country (world?). Whether this brings more developers to their fold or not, it definitely has a potential to attract developers towards public cloud platforms, in general.
This is definitely a great initiative but
- I would have loved if Appirio had showcased many different platform providers in the community. I know that Twilio is on board and they are talking to others. But, Twilio is one of the few hyperactive companies who had taken the crowdsourcing route from the get go. It is not too difficult to lure them into any developer focussed cloud community. I would love to see big platform providers including those not supported by Appirio’s business model
- Whenever I hear about developing a community, I feel like jumping up and down like Steve Ballmer and shout “traction, traction, traction, traction……” along with “developers, developers, developers, developers…….”. Yes, Appirio has pledged $1 Million on CloudSpokes. From what my own experience and what my observations of the industry tell me, money is not enough to get the developer eyeballs. The whole community experience has to be attractive for the developers. With terms like even the losers in the competition having to transfer the IP to Appirio, I am not sure how it will lure developers towards a vendor associated community. However, I wouldn’t dismiss them right away and I will closely watch the community develop before I make up my mind conclusively
- Even without considering the issues like IP and other sensitive issues, community building is hard and money alone is not enough to lure developers. They have hired Dave Messinger, one of the early drivers of TopCoder to drive this community. His experience is definitely an asset but they need to bring in more cloud platform providers fast. It has been two weeks and they have close to 500 people registered in the community with 15 open challenges. It is too early to come to a conclusion based on these numbers. But the climb up is going to be hard for CloudSpokes and it all depends on their strategy and execution in the coming months
- They could address some of my concerns above if they bring in the open source component to the community. Open Source has the same kind of power (if you ask Open Source evangelists like me, we will say more power) as the money for luring developers to any community
Let me be clear here. In spite of my concerns above, I am excited by the CloudSpokes announcement. I see a potential to lure more and more developers to develop for the cloud than doing things in the traditional way. If large number of developers move to cloud based platforms, it has the potential to lure more and more enterprises towards public clouds. So, this initiative has a potential to do good to public cloud market itself. I will be closely monitoring the CloudSpokes community and get back to report here after giving them some time to gain traction.
Update: Appirio has clarified regarding the IP rights. The developer own the rights but they do grant them a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, fully-paid, sublicenseable (through multiple tiers of distribution) and transferable license to use, reproduce, modify, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform their code in connection with the Website and their business. More information on the IP rights can be found here.