Open Source Communities: How Design Choice with regards to Transparency and Accessibility affects External Participation

Joel West joined the conversation on community-led and sponsored open source projects. His newer paper on the role of participation architecture in growing sponsored open source communities explores governance issues at a deeper scale.

TransparencyTransparency and Accessibility matter by Josh Sommers

Joel and Siobhán O’Mahony compared corporate and voluntary production models, or sponsored and community managed projects, as they called them. Their study had two research questions:

how did sponsors design open source software communities in the hopes of attracting external participation, and how did this differ from the design of autonomous based communities?

Interesting questions indeed, coming from real experts of open source community governance. Joel and Siobhán didn’t focus on boundary between work and hobby in an individual’s participation, or other individual motivations for open source contributions, as Joel explained. They focused on investigating how sponsored communities differ from their autonomous counterparts identified three key design choices: the organization of production, community governance and intellectual property. I tend to agree with Joel saying that the “meat” of the paper is in Table 3, reporting the specific trade-offs made across the various independent and sponsored projects, but I warmly suggest you to read the whole paper.

Talking about the organization of the production of code, they say (bold emphasis is mine):

Overall, the degree of modularity, associated dependencies, and the quality of code documentation affected the ability of outside members to understand the code well enough to contribute. [..] In addition to the technical architecture of the code, the organization of production includes control of the processes by which individuals participate in the community’s production process. These social measures are not necessarily correlated to a project’s technical design: for example, highly modular code can still be tightly controlled by a single firm. Thus, a project’s technical architecture is one subset of a community’s participation architecture. [..] We identified three design parameters that provided contributors with transparency and accessibility to production processes:
1. Live code access provides transparency by offering the community the chance to review the most recent “live” version of source code on the community website [..] . 2. Public commit process refers to the opportunity for community members to become directly involved in the production process by earning (through demonstrated technical proficiency) the right to directly commit software changes to the community repository.[..] 3. Subproject creation is a mechanism by which a community based on the sponsor’s original code can grow to assume new functionality or new directions.

The production of code is key to a sustainable open source business model, that’s why some open source firms are shifting towards an hybrid production model and also why retaining an existing one is vital.

Technorati Tags: Commercial Open Source, community-driven, peer production, external participation, open source communities, JoelWest, SiobhánOMahony