What Linux Distros and FOSS Projects Can Learn From elementary OS

elementary OS 6 wallpaper background with Danielle Foré: (Co-founder and CEO), and Cassidy James Blaede (Co-founder & CXO)
Pictured: elementary OS 6 wallpaper with Co-founder / CEO Danielle Foré (top), and Co-founder/CXO Cassidy James Blaede (bottom)

There are hundreds of independent Linux distributions competing for the attention and mindshare of an admittedly small audience. To stand out, you need a carefully executed balance of quality, word-of-mouth, a compelling website, community engagement, and smart marketing. In my honest opinion, the team at elementary OS nails it on all fronts.

Spread The Knowledge Around

In this ongoing series, I’m shining a light on the strengths of certain FOSS projects and Linux distros. Specifically in the areas of PR, marketing, and web presence. The goal? Spread that knowledge around to benefit others in the spirit of open source.

We kicked things off with a look at what Zorin OS does right, through the eyes of a Linux content creator.

Today I’m delighted to present a conversation with elementary OS co-founders Danielle Foré and Cassidy James Blaede.

I’ve functioned both as a member of the press (Forbes) and a content creator producing videos, podcasts and articles about Linux. In both capacities, it’s been a joy to work with elementary OS.

You’ll find out why in the short interview below. I hope the insights help you with your own projects, or just bolster your appreciate for the elementary OS team.

Danielle Foré, elementary OS Co-founder & CEO

Jason: Danielle, what kind of impact do you think press coverage has on elementary OS?

Danielle Foré, elementary OS Co-founder / CEO
Danielle Foré

Danielle: “Press coverage is extremely important for our business. We really rely on the tech press to communicate with people both inside and outside of our community. The way the press talks about a new feature, or a release, or our relationships with upstreams or our place in the ecosystem […] those things can stick in people’s minds for years and inform the way they interact with us and what they tell their friends about us.

Getting out that message of what we value and what we’re working towards is how we shape our brand.”

[Author’s note: The team also does an exemplary job transparently communicating their goals, roadmaps and design principles on the elementary OS blog. It’s attractive, informative, and wonderfully verbose.]

Jason: How many times per year do you reach out to press with story opportunities or things like early elementary OS beta versions?

Danielle: “We try to make sure that we’re only making big press releases for things that are truly important. We want our friends in the press to know that we value their time. Typically we’re sending out press releases only a couple of times a year. I’d like to think that when our friends in the press get a release from us they know something exciting is happening.”

[Author’s note: Speaking from personal experience, yes! When that email shows up, it’s going to be worth covering. Beyond that, I typically get a private beta release 4 or 5 days in advance — proof that my time is being respected.]

Jason: What lessons (or just cool things) have you learned from working with press and various content creators?

Danielle: “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that everyone has their own style. Sometimes a content creator wants to deliver your messaging exactly as you’ve said it, but other times they want to challenge you a bit to get you to clarify or dig deeper into your message in order to get a story that they feel resonates better with their audience. It won’t always just be a hand-off of your talking points, but regardless of their approach, you have to trust in them. And trust in your message and convictions.”

Jason: Messaging is really tricky, and the Linux community is truly global. And while that’s an awesome thing, does it present any challenges communicating a precise message to people who don’t use English as their native language?

Danielle: “The exact words and phrases you use really matter. Especially in an international setting, you have to be really intentional. Something that sounds harmless to you might come across really harsh or rude to someone from a different region. So it’s super important to edit, and double-check, and be aware of when you’re talking about a sensitive topic.

“And you can ask for feedback! Ask your friends in the press how they think their audience will receive a message and how you can shape it to be clear with your intent.”

Cassidy James Blaede, elementary OS Co-founder & CXO

Jason: Danielle pointed out that it’s important to respect someone’s time when asking them to cover an elementary OS milestone. How exactly do you accomplish that?

Cassidy James Blaede, elementary OS Co-founder & CXO

Cassidy: “Don’t be afraid of the embargo! We’ve found it can be beneficial to prepare press materials ahead of time and send them out to content creators to give them some time before the public announcement to read, digest, and prepare any coverage of the announcement. It gives them time to plan and schedule, ask follow-up questions, etc. before the story feels ‘old’ to the general public. This is extremely commonplace in the greater press world, but I think most open source folks miss out on the benefits.”

Jason: YES! I’ve had embargoed press releases sent to me only hours before an embargo lifts. Sometimes it’s impossible to have that quick turnaround when you’re committed to writing other things. That’s doubly true if you’re producing video! And in my case, if I can’t publish something right when that embargo time lifts, I’m frustrated because I know my audience will find the information in a dozen other places first.

Cassidy: “Also, prepare press materials!”

Jason: Oh this is a topic I appreciate! Can you elaborate on that?

Cassidy: “The best responses we’ve gotten have been when we prepare full-resolution screenshots of everything we talk about in the announcement and provide it all in a nice zipped-up download. It sounds a little funny, but the more of a content creator’s job you can do for them ahead of time (like preparing an easy-to-digest blog post and lots of high-quality screenshots), the less time they have to spend doing that—and the more time they can work on their own interesting perspectives.”


More elementary OS Goodness:

You can download elementary OS 6.0 or read the (excellent) blogs at https://elementary.io.

Both Danielle and Cassidy can be reached on Twitter, at @DanielFore and @CassidyJames, respectively.

For more, check out my audio interview with Danielle on Linux For Everyone Episode #7.


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