Learnings from open-sourcing Bootstrap

April 2, 2012

Bootstrap wasn’t my first open-source project, but it’s definitely the largest and most successful, largely thanks to Jacob and the community of course. Since open-sourcing Bootstrap seven months ago, I’ve realized a few things about open-source that I’d like share with you all.

Communication is paramount

No matter the success of an open-source project, folks using your hard work begin to depend on you and what you’re doing. Communication becomes more important as the age and use of the project increases. When’s the next release, and what will it include? Does the license allow for X, Y, or Z? What about support for third party plugins like A or B? Questions like this are bound to arise, so you have to be proactive to fight the brunt of it and keep your sanity.

To do that in Bootstrap, we use our GitHub wiki to share a roadmap, license info, a changelog, and even contribution standards. We also use our Twitter account and new blog to post about changes and releases.

People can be jerks

Let’s get this one out of the way, because it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it sucks in a big way. Just like in real life, some folks can be jerks online. This can be from lack of context on either person’s end, assuming someone’s an idiot, or simply being too aggressive. It sucks, but it can happen. When it does, keep a level head and get past it so you can help all the other awesome folks out there.

People can be fucking awesome

Speaking of awesome, sometimes people can just be fucking awesome. My own personal credo is to “Help awesome people do awesome shit” and I stand by that through and through. To date, Bootstrap is the best way I can help talented folks do their work, and so far it’s been a blast. There are plenty of smart, diligent, and hardworking people out there who just want to help you out or learn from you. Embrace it, learn from it, and pass it on.

Getting complete context on issues is hard

Just like bug reports in a typical web project, getting the complete picture around an issue submitted on GitHub can be difficult. Inability to reproduce a particular bug, difficulty in communicating across languages, dealing with opposite levels of experience, working with different versions of the same codebase, and more are all cases that you might come across on an open-source project.

Figure out a system that works well for you (in many cases, we require a live demo or jsfiddle) and communicate that to your followers. Stick to it and know that sometimes it just takes a bit more time and patience.

It’s all worth it

I hope you come away knowing the positive outweighs the negative in this post because when it comes right down to it, open-sourcing Bootstrap was one of the best things to happen to me personally and professionally. I’ve been able to help thousands of people do their work better and faster—all while helping them learn a bit more as they go. I’ve gotten to work with a lot of awesome people, had a blast doing it, and learned a great deal. Bootstrap has been worth every second I’ve put into it and I hope to keep it up for a long time to come.

TL;DR: Open-source is awesome, sometimes work is hard, be excellent to each other, do what you love, fuck yeah.