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Section 2.3 Qualities of an OSS Community

Each OSS community has a rich set of defining qualities. Understanding these qualities is essential to evaluating and participating in the community:

Subsection 2.3.1 Focus

What does the community want to achieve? The stated goals may be broader than the actual interest and focus of the community. For example, a group may state that they’re developing a Geographic Information System (GIS), which is a broad goal, but the actual software may be focused on just one particular use of GIS.

Subsection 2.3.2 Maturity and History

Is the project new or old? Young communities may not have developed effective procedures and rhythms, or may not yet have attracted contributors other than developers (such as documentation writers, artists, testers, and marketers). On the other hand, older communities may have plateaued with a stable, complete product (good) or stagnated (bad). Some of the oldest OSS communities, such as the X Windows community, have gone through multiple periods of rapid development, stable releases, stagnation, and rejuvenation.

Subsection 2.3.3 Type of Openness

The term open source is broadly applied, but there are many different types and degrees of openness. Some open-source projects don’t have an active community. Occasionally, they release new code for people to use, but it’s not clear how you can help improve the code, or if it’s even possible. Some projects have an active community but a strict management hierarchy anchored by a dictator-for-life or impenetrable core committee, while others have an openness that extends to their management structure. There are also projects where the core source code is tightly controlled, but are extremely open in peripheral areas such as translations, documentation, and community support.

Subsection 2.3.4 Commercial Ties

Is there a company (or companies) sponsoring the project? Some sponsors provide only resources (funding, equipment, infrastructure), while others provide technology, legal protection, people, or some combination. It’s important to understand how much influence the sponsors have in the overall direction of the project, and whether the community can continue if the sponsor pulls out (or fails).

Subsection 2.3.5 Subgroups

Does the community operate as a whole, or does it operate as a collection of subgroups? Some large communities have formally-defined subgroups, while others have communities that form, expand, contract, and dissolve in an organic way as needed. Sub-groups may also be defined along technological, use-case, geographic, or functional lines.

Subsection 2.3.6 Skills

Each community requires and focuses on different sets of skills. In some cases, a community could benefit from having new contributors with skill sets that are not currently represented or even recognized as being needed.

Subsection 2.3.7 Mentoring and Training

Some communities grow in a haphazard way, others offer guidance for new contributors, still others provide clearly-defined, simple on-ramps with purposeful training and mentorship programs.

Checkpoint 2.3.1. Exercise – Explore Community Qualities.

Go to your chosen project and research the following, providing links as evidence :
  • Maturity and History.
    Discuss the maturity and the history of the project.
  • Focus.
    How did the focus of the community change over time? Has it changed greatly or very little? Explain.
  • Type of Openness.
    Describe the type of openness you witness.
  • Commercial Ties.
    Are there commercial ties? If so, how much influence do the sponsors have?
  • Subgroups.
    Can you identify any formal or informal subgroups that operate on differing tools or aspects?
  • Skills.
    Can you identify differentiation of skill sets? Any specific skill sets that are needed?
  • Mentoring and Training.
    How does the community work to onboard novice members?

Checkpoint 2.3.2.

    What aspect is essential to consider regarding the maturity of an OSS community and its history?
  • The number of different skills represented among community members.
  • While representation matters in OSS community, it is an essential aspect when considering the maturity of an OSS community.
  • The extent to which subgroups are formally defined within the community.
  • While subgroups can be an essential part of an OSS community, it doesn’t affect the maturity and history of the community.
  • Whether the community has attracted contributors beyond developers, and the potential for growth and rejuvenation.
  • Absolutely right! The maturity and history of an OSS community can be evaluated by considering whether it has attracted contributors beyond developers, and if it has experienced periods of growth, stability, stagnation, and rejuvenation.
  • The presence of a sponsoring company and the level of influence it holds over the community’s direction.
  • Sponsoring companies may affect the community’s direction in terms of commercial ties but it does not influence directly the maturity and history of OSS community.
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