A year or so ago, I needed a tool to generate thumbnails of Web pages. I found a lot of inadequate tools and a server based solution with limited flexibility (thumbshots.org). So I decided to throw together Thumb-Page to do the job, and then I decided to release it as open source.
Since then, it’s been a surprisingly popular application. I figured maybe a few hundred people would be interested in it… instead it’s clocking in at about 400 per month. Now compared to a “hot” shareware application that can pull in 400,000 downloads per month, that’s not so hot, but it’s still pretty good.
In fact amongst the 100,000+ projects available on Sourceforge, it’s ranking between 800 and 4000, which isn’t too shabby at all.
But if you enter “web page thumbnail generator” into Google, a link to my application comes up in the number one spot! What’s interesting though is that it’s not a link to Sourceforge that’s getting the attention, it’s an entry I made for it at topshareware.com that’s doing the trick. Most of the downloads are coming from users of the shareware site. What’s even more interesting is that these shareware sites seem to share databases rather extensively. Copies of my entry show up at shareware sites all over the worlds, and in many different languages.
The lesson from this is that the open source community is still doing a terrible job of marketing itself. Shareware sites aren’t exactly the first place people use to look for software solutions, and they’re doing a far better job than Sourceforge is. One of the problems with Sourceforge is that they’re really a huge code repository and not geared towards promoting finished applications. Sure they promote their stars such as Gaim and phpMyAdmin, but there’s a lot of good applications that are stable and functional but lost in with the masses of projects in the “planning, pre-alpha, and alpha” stages. Take the blog software Serendipity as a case in point: I was actively looking for a better blogging solution, but instead of finding it on Sourceforge I discovered “s9y” through reading another blog that used it and noticing that it had the features I was looking for. That’s hardly the most efficient way of getting the word out.
Maybe what is needed is some way to rank based on user feedback, or a finished product review process. Whatever the solution, a lot more can be done.