Hyperic uses Web site to keep dialogue with users

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In the open source market, developers offer software freely for use by anyone. Users monitor the progress of software development, comment on what they see and share their own enhancements. Customer contributions are crucial to developers. For their part, users typically pay for the software only if they want vendor support services, and few do so.

"We're an open source company, so part of the paradigm of how you do business in open source is that you put all your product out there for your customers and your community to see and evaluate," said Stacey Schneider, senior director of marketing at Hyperic Inc., a San Francisco-based developer of systems management software.

"For open source companies, communities are the primary target. If you are a successful open source company, 99% of your customers will never pay you, but you will have an outstanding community," Schneider said. "So our foundation roots are absolutely in the whole collaborative community environment."

When an open source developer shares its software via the Web, customers test the software, share their criticisms and suggestions with the vendor, and offer ideas for future product improvements. And they don't just share their feedback with the vendor but also with peers in other companies. "You want to foster this entire community of innovation, thought leadership and discussion so that you have a better finger on the pulse of your community," Schneider said.

Schneider said that the open source community helps Hyperic keep costs low and avoid negative surprises or user disappointment with a new release.

"For companies such as Hyperic, the first sign of Web 2.0 appears on their home page, where the usual departmental tabs such as "company," "products" and "resources" are supplemented by tabs for "blog," "forums" and "bug tracker." Those features provide users an opportunity to share feedback and ideas.

The business benefits of Web 2.0 may be hard to quantify, but Schneider points to Hyperic CEO Javier Soltero's recent blog entry entitled "Community: The Telltale Heart of Open Source," which put the community contributions into perspective. Soltero described four examples where customers or partners developed and shared bug fixes and enhancements for Hyperic's software.

Yet what a visitor sees on Hyperic's Web site is only part of the Web 2.0 experience. It's up to Schneider, other executives and company developers to be aware of what is happening in online media and in other open source-oriented communities. As Schneider put it: "We make sure that we are contributing to those various communities, which is the spirit of the communities but also gets us recognition and thought leadership, and generates interest in our own community and how we solve the problems they are suffering."

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