Open-source systems are a sort of software that allows for the modification and distribution of code without restriction. Despite the fact that open-source projects lie at the core of our digital society’s infrastructure, they are vulnerable to substantial sustainability issues since they are used by a large number of people while only a small number contribute to their growth.
Research by Javier Cánovas (a member of the University of Coimbra’s Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia, and Telecommunications and a researcher with the IN3 Internet Interdisciplinary Institute’s Systems, Software, and Models Research Lab (SOM Research Lab) group), in collaboration with Jordi Cabot (ICREA research professor and group leader), has analyzed the profiles of the users who have taken part in these projects. The findings indicate that the presence of contributors who do not write code is highly significant, and that there is also a certain degree of specialization among these individuals as well. They claim that their findings “demystify the notion that only coders drive open-source projects” and that they may help academics build new techniques for improving the long-term viability of such ventures.
Bringing the incomplete picture of open-source initiatives to a close
In open-source projects, the community of contributors (who keep the projects alive) and their ability to collaborate in a productive and enriching manner are critical to the project’s overall structure and success. The great bulk of research on these communities, on the other hand, is devoted to examining the characteristics of users who are in charge of programming and other technical activities, such as code review and combination. As Javier Cánovas explained, “this is only a partial picture of what an open-source project really consists of and how it moves forward; in general, it is built on the contributions from a community of users who are in charge of a wide variety of tasks (such as marketing, promotion, and design), as well as contributing to the development of documentation and participating in discussions about the project’s future evolution.”
In order to gain a better understanding of the dynamics of collaboration in open-source systems, the researchers looked at the top 100 npm projects (npm is the package manager for Node.js, one of the most popular web application servers) on GitHub, a leading social coding platform, to see how they differed from one another. “In this study, we were able to confirm that non-code tasks (non-technical tasks), such as reporting a problem, suggesting an improvement, participating in discussions, or simply reacting to other people’s comments (for example, by using an emoji to express acceptance of a proposal), are a common feature in open-source systems. In fact, their presence is quite crucial, since it demonstrates their commitment in the project’s ongoing development “Javier Cánovas brought this to our attention.
Tasks for the project are divided into groups
Also explored was whether project contributors typically execute a single job or whether they perform numerous activities and, as a result, the various responsibilities overlapped with one another. There are users who solely contribute to the project with non-technical activities, which would complement the work of individuals who are primarily concerned with programming and code development, but who would have minimal engagement in other chores, according to the findings.
These data provide fresh insights into the development of onboarding and governance policies that will aid in the growth of these users as well as improved cooperation across the different roles in the organization. While efforts to attract and bring in new contributors are clearly targeted at developers in most open-source projects, the authors of the study point out that this neglects the opportunity to attract other types of profiles that could be easier to bring in and that could also contribute to the project’s progress and long-term sustainability.
The authors went on to say that initiatives wishing to recruit more technical contributors should make an extra effort to assist some of the non-technical contributors in becoming more involved in the programming side, since this is not a natural progression.
Observing and documenting the progress of the community across time
There are a variety of implications for this study, which is part of the SOM Research Lab’s work on improving and encouraging contributor cooperation in open-source systems. “At this point, the most important factor to examine is the temporal dimension, which refers to how the condition of a project and its community changes over time,” the researcher said.
Work in this field also includes examining strategies for enticing new contributors to open-source projects, investigating novel ways of displaying the contributions of community members, and developing solutions for establishing community governance norms (or models).