Fostering a Volunteer Community

Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia) knows a thing or two about fostering a geeky volunteer community. A desire to do well at my current post of “Mr. Open Source” on the Mifos project has led me to try and learn some lessons from people like Jimmy. Here are two crucial points gleaned from an interview with him on FLOSS Weekly:

  • small group dialogs are best, too many people on one problem ends in voting/groupthink
  • build a system that supports bees and and handles wasps (my verbage)

Pidgin, IRC, Freenode

IRC is an ancient, tried-and-true one-to-many chat protocol. Pidgin is a feature-rich instant messaging client that can handle many protocols, including IRC. Pidgin runs on many different platforms, including the three most popular ones. Pidgin integrates nicely with the desktop.

Here’s how to set up a Freenode IRC account in Pidgin:

  1. Open Pidgin; click Accounts -> Add/Edit.
  2. Click the Add button.
  3. Change the protocol to IRC and enter as the server.
  4. If you have a Screen name (called a “nick” or “nickname” in IRC parlance), type it (e.g. MrOpenSource) in the Screen name field. If you don’t own one yet, make one up.
  5. Click on the Advanced tab, and fill in the Real name field.

Now, register your nickname. This helps people recognize you, protects your identity, and allows you to send private messages.

  1. Click on Buddies -> New Instant Message.
  2. Fill in NickServ for Name.
  3. Change Account to the Freenode account you just created, and click Ok. Now you can “talk” with the NickServ robot.
  4. The first message you send should be register PASSWORD EMAIL (where PASSWORD is one of your choosing, and EMAIL is your email address).
  5. Next, set an email address. This will give you a way to reset your password later should there be a need. Send set hide email on to NickServ.
  6. Next message should be set email ADDRESS (where ADDRESS is your email address)

Then, join #mifos. :)

One problem sometimes occurs when you have connection problems. You may be disconnected from the internet and the IRC server may not realize you’ve dropped off. When you reconnect, you may see what appears to be two of your username in the channel with slightly different names. Like: USERNAME and USERNAME_. Send help release to NickServ, and NickServ will tell you how to release the original, correct nickname.

Further instructions can be found here or by saying help to NickServ. Commands like /msg NickServ help do work in Pidgin.

This guide was heavily inspired by the following article on

One more final tip: enable the “Join/Part Hiding” plugin to supress the many “so-and-so joined the room, so-and-so left” messages that will likely show up in the channel.