There's a lot of great software and ideas in the Linux world. Most of it's free, and much of it is of a higher quality than its commercial counterparts. Although there is a good flow of information about new releases on Linux newsgroups and news sites, there is little exposure for these products in the popular press (although there have been many reviews and articles about Linux in general lately). This site aims to encourage Linux developers and users to create press releases worthy of publication, and provide resources for general public relations.
If you take a quick scan of the computer section of your local newspaper and most trade magazines you will notice that many articles (especially those announcing new products) are near-verbatim reprints of press releases. Some online journals go so far as to include the full PR header, with headline and datestamps. Conversely, press releases are designed with this in mind: catchy headlines are given to the publisher and the text of the release is often in the style of an article, with interesting anecdotes from "sources outside the company" or "satisfied users".
Writing a press release can get you instant recognition outside of your usual developer and user communities. As increasing numbers of people move to using free software, the popular press is becoming a necessary way of getting new product information to potential users.
After all, the press is there to report news to its readers, not to play patsy to commercial empires. If your product is of interest to a publication's readership, it is in their interest to publish an announcment about it, regardless of your product's licensing policies, packaging or sexual preference.
The first step is to learn how to write a decent press release. Here's some pointers:
Here's some good examples of press releases which have been written for freely-available Linux software:
One thing to note about Microsoft's "Press Pass" is the sheer volume of press releases coming from that company. It's no wonder their penetration into the popular press is so large. With anywhere up to ten press releases per day, it's no wonder that at least a few trickle into almost every computer publication on the planet.
Some simple advice to infer from that would be to write press releases often, without expecting all of them to be published. Of course you don't want to spam global news services with information about every bugfix you release, but short, informative releases about new product features and other announcements, every few months, cannot go astray.
I'd suggest that the main reason free software is not reported in a volume comparable to commercial software is not because the reporters are all lame and the press sites are all ruled by commercial pressures, but because they are unaware of the developments in the free software community. There is enough free software released that anyone not checking Fresh Meat daily will miss most releases. You cannot expect every newpaper and trade magazine reporter to keep up to date with releases that even diehard Linux users can easily miss.
There is a lead in time of somewhere between a few months and a few years between when an idea is formed and when a product is implemented. Users also need this time to get ready for the technology that lies ahead. By announcing your product some time before the fully stable version is released, the marketplace can become accustomed to the idea that your product exists, and interested users can ready themselves to integrate it into their environment.
Many developers of proprietary software announce features well before they are implemented. As a free software developer, you should not need to use this tactic. Get some code working, release some betas, then announce the imminent availability of the stable version and describe its features in detail.
When the stable version is released, make a more complete announcement, reiterating the features and emphasising the current availability of the product.
If your free software product is mature, and only undergoes the occasional cleanup, there is no reason to rest on your laurels. There are many cases where a simple press release to the effect that your product provides some particular service or is provably reliable can be beneficial. For example, if a proprietary software company announces a planned product with features which have already reached maturity in your free product (a not uncommon occurrence in the free software community), then release a statement to that effect.
For example, if you see a news item like:
RANDOMSOFT CORP. ANNOUNCES PLANS FOR ACTIVE-EDGAR TO BRING EDGAR TECHNOLOGY TO THE DESKTOPand your mature free software product XEdgar has been doing this for a while, then write a press release along the lines of:
JOHN HACKER BRINGS EDGAR TECHNOLOGY TO THE DESKTOP TODAY WITH XEDGAR
LINUX BRINGS EDGAR TECHNOLOGY TO THE DESKTOP TODAY WITH XEDGAR
repeatedly referring to the current availability and maturity of the product, while emphasizing all the whizz-bang features that make Edgar technology a must-have.
Similarly, if the trade press are buzzing about some technology with which you are working, let people know. If you sit back silently thinking "hey, that's what I'm doing" when people are talking about how cool some feature would be, tell them. You may as well encourage people to use your product rather than let them wait a few years until they hear a large company announce their version.
One of the first things you'll do to get the message out is inform the general Linux community. You can (and should) do this early, even when your software is not quite stable, to get the message out (that your software exists) and encourage others to help develop it.
You can find more sites, particularly indices for more specialised areas, at Linux Life.
This is of course what press releases are designed for, and in order to get the message out to the "Real World" you'll have to get in contact with the usual print and online magazines. The Linux Advocacy mini-HOWTO suggests getting in touch with your local newspaper - chances are they'll be willing to publish your article, and possibly relay it to a larger news network.
You should also consider having your press release translated into other languages. The Linux Publicity Project writes and translates press releases. You may also be able to find volunteers from various countries among your users or development team to translate your press release and distribute it to local publications.
Of course you should also send your press release to as many relevent online news services as possible. Here's some large news sites to start on (feel free to send me more):
And of course you'll want to add your site to some popular search engines. Here's some direct links to search engine submission forms.
Yahoo AltaVista Excite Infoseek Lycos
If you have any ideas or suggestions for this article, please mail me, Conrad Parker, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks to Leonard Richardson for some great links and ideas.
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