Last month I attended Joomladay Cape Town 2012 in South Africa. It was great to meet the South African Joomla community and to attend the presentations.
During the event various people told me that they experienced the South African society as very protective. They thought people were very reluctant in sharing information. However, that was not how I experienced the people who attended Joomladay Cape Town: They were all very friendly and open, and shared a lot of knowledge.
In my keynote presentation How to contribute to the Joomla community I described the importance of sharing knowledge in an open source software community in general, and in Joomla in particular.
Propriety (“closed”) software has a license that only protects the rights of the owners and limits the rights of its users. Joomla is open source software and its GNU GPL also protects the freedom and rights of users. Because Joomla's source code is public, you can obtain knowledge of the inner working of the software. Therefore I think that Open Source = “Open Knowledge”. Sharing the Joomla software is important for the project to be successful. Sharing the knowledge of Joomla is important.
Joomla is a community driven project. It's not backed by a commercial company. This means that it's totally dependent on the individual contribution of community members. Joomla's success depends on its community and the contribution of individuals to the project. Therefore contribution is very important!
On the second day a lightning talk session was scheduled. In such a session attendees can talk for 10 minutes about a Joomla related topic. One of those talks seemed to fit my Community presentation perfectly: in his lightning talk George Gombay acknowledged the feeling about people in South Africa being protective regarding their knowledge.
He told a story about how "in real life" small shops seem to cluster together in the same area. You might probably recognize it in your own neighborhood too: a street where 3 or 4 bakeries or shoe stores run their shop very close to each other. This might seem weird because those same kind of shops are likely to compete with each other. Why don't they open their store in another area where there isn't a store in their line of business?
George described some reasons why competitors might benefit from starting a business close to their competitors. And why those same shops could be more successful than without their competitors close by. I'll try to give a summary of his points, and added my own view.
Multiple businesses in the same line of business will attract more customers from a wider area. Competition in the same area:
- gives the customers more choices in services or products;
- safeguards fair prices for the customers. If a business charges too much, their customers might switch to a competitor;
- safeguards the quality of services or products. The businesses have to maintain high standards of service or else the customer might switch to a competitor;
- will give the customers continuity of service. If their supplier decides to close down their business, their customers will be able to find a new supplier.
Besides a bigger target audience of customers, there are a couple of other benefits for businesses that operate close to each other:
- If competitors share knowledge with each other, it will improve their knowledge, and thus their expertise;
- Businesses, even in the same line of business, differ from each other. They might offer different products or services. Together they are able to offer a wider range of products or services, and therefore attract more customers;
- Older shops might coach the younger ones, while the younger shops might have more insight in the latest trends that they share with the older shops;
- In some areas shop associations might be formed. Those associations might improve the area for its customers, and might lead to more potential customers.
So companies from the same line of business that operate close to each other, will increase their common market. And sharing information & helping their fellow competitors will increase their level of knowledge, and their turnover. So competition, and helping others (even your competitors!) generates mutual benefits.
This effect also applies to Joomla related businesses!
You can't be a specialist in all fields of Joomla. Some companies specialize in implementation of existing extensions. Others have more knowledge about design & template development. Some companies might specialize in custom extension development. Some companies advertise themselves as SEO experts. And others might have the right expertise to transfer knowledge to end users.
I think that small businesses can only be experts in 2 or 3 areas of Joomla. And that's where you can benefit from competition. As you can't specialize in everything, it’s better to cooperate with competitors in order to be able to provide more service to your customers across a wider area.
All Joomla companies together can offer the whole range of Joomla services. All together they compete with each other which gives the customers fair prices, good options of choices, and safeguards quality. And they will guarantee the continuity of a Joomla website, because if one business decides to change their services, customers can easily turn to a competitor to help them out with their website.
So if competitors share knowledge with each other and with their customers, their common knowledge will increase, and the total market increases too. And if companies, or people, contribute back to the Joomla project, the project will benefit, and thus the community that is using the software.