Interview with Community Manager of Fairphone, Douwe Schmidt.
As you know, UBports and Ubuntu on the Fairphone 2 are community initiatives, so we were curious about Douwe’s experiences with the Fairphone community. Are there resemblances, differences, can we learn from each other?
Douwe: ‘As for most communities, they derive from the need to solve a problem and the wish to realise a dream. For the Fairphone community that dream is developing an honest phone. The first phone, the Fairphone 1, was developed in a crowdsourcing project in collaboration with the Waag society in Amsterdam, an institute for art, science and technology. In the crowd funding phase we sold 25.000 units and that kickstarted the entire Fairphone story. The Fairphone community does not stand by itself, it emerged from an already existing community of researchers and designers around Waag Society. They supported the development of sustainable products. Having such an existing, social foundation was an important precondition for the Fairphone community to start and prosper.
Community of enablers
Fairphone has become a serious organisation and entrepreneurship since it started in 2013. Between Fairphone 1 and 2 it made some essential steps. The Fairphone community played a crucial role in these developments, Douwe states.
“The Fairphone 1 was a first step to get our foot between the door in the electronics industry and gave us many important first insights in the production of smartphones. But as we gained knowledge, we found that some early decisions limited our overall goals. For instance we found that the initial choice for the mediatek chipset, limited the life time of the Fairphone 1 considerably as no new updates where released by the vendor. Fairphone wants to get fair minerals, acceptable working conditions, good recycling programs and a long lasting phone. For that last part we made considerable changes to the Fairphone 2 and are now able to provide a more open platform that receives timely monthly updates and is easier for others to work with. The community has grown considerably since the launch of the Fairphone 2.”
Along with the development of the Fairphone the role of the community members changed from supporters of a dream into owners of a product. D: ‘In the beginning the Fairphone was more of an object users could start a conversation with but now they can use the phone to create their own projects. This way the community gains a serious interest in the product to succeed.’
The community port of Sailfish, which uses Fairphone Open at its core is an example. And Ubuntu is now the next great project that shows the possibilities for developers and their interest in the Fairphone have grown.
These changes within the community enabled Fairphone to achieve one of its goals; longevity. 'We believe that diversifying the amount of OS’s on the Fairphone 2 will help to keep the Fairphone 2’s out there in use for a longer period. The community absolutely helps us to push through our mission.'
Importance of engagement
The members of the Fairphone community have a willingness and commitment to contribute. Therefore it is important to offer them opportunities to be of value within the group. Douwe is constantly looking for ways people can contribute, using their personal qualities. ‘I communicate with the members on the platform and on social media on a daily basis to see if they are happy, need help or their experiences to be heard.’
Fairphone appreciates what UBports and the Ubuntu on the Fairphone 2 team have achieved. They truly believe in the power of open source projects, but also admire the perseverance and effort UBports puts into this project. It can be challenging to motivate people to commit to a project that perhaps is not an obvious or easy choice. Fairphone had the same experience when they started, they really had to convince the world it is possible to make an honest phone. Look where they are now: 125,000 users and counting.
UBports is looking forward to see Fairphone at the Mobile World Congress (February 27 – 2 March 2017). Hopefully the event will bring lots of new opportunities to push Fairphone’s mission forward.