The ecology of Open-Source software development

(via Calpundit)

Continuing our discussion on Open Source, I came across a study by Kieran Healy and Alan Shussman that studied a wide array of open-source software projects to get a picture of how many people are working on any given project, and what the organizational aspects were. The abstract of the paper reports:

Open Source Software (OSS) is an innovative method of developing software applications that has been very successful over the past eight to ten years. A number of theories have emerged to explain its success,
mainly from economics and law. We analyze a very large sample of OSS projects and find striking patterns in the overall structure of the development community. The distribution of projects on a range of activity measures is spectacularly skewed, with
only a relatively tiny number of projects showing evidence of the strong collaborative activity which is supposed to characterize OSS. Our findings are consistent with prior, smaller-scale empirical research. We argue that these findings pose problems for the dominant accounts of oss. We suggest that the gulf between active and inactive projects may be explained by social-structural features of the community which have received little attention in the existing literature. We suggest some hypotheses that might better predict the observed ecology of projects.

Some of the basic findings, beyond that of the abstract, is that for the projects that had a large number of contributors, the organization was heirarchical within the project (much like contemporary corporate software development).

It would seem to me that instead of being really a Cathedral/Bazaar distinction, it's a matter of a bazaar for determining what ideas and projects are worth developing (through, essentially, a market process of people choosing whether or not to associate with a project), and a Cathedral for projects that do get developed. Popular projects tend to snowball (when the market finds something interesting, programmers are quickly allocated to the project). The way software is developed is not necessarily that different, but the decision making process for what gets developed (and how programming human resources get allocated) is. Corporate developers attract programmers to the company, and then determine projects, while Open-Source seems to attract people on a project-by-project basis.

In any case, it seems like an interesting study in catallaxy.

Share this

interesting. In the study

interesting. In the study it mentions that the vast majority of OSS projects have 1 developer. I guess it is safe to assume projects like Apache and Linux are more the exception than the rule.

I imagine that the effort an

I imagine that the effort an individual puts into a work (without collaborators) is a signalling device of sorts to whether others should help (DIY until others see merit in your work, or rather see a project that has someone dedicated to it and isn't going to be ephemeral).

And I think it may be just the fact that, in general, most ideas aren't the best, and the market (OSS community) makes a judgement in that regard through the decisions of individual developers deciding where to spend their time. THere is still a cost to OSS, even if it is not monetary- time is the 'money' of an OSS programmer, IMO, and they make economic decisions on where to spend their time just as other market actors do with money.