Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Comprehensive research into Open Source success factors

An insightful, multi-year study of the Open Source Software Commons, led by Professor Charlie Schweik from the University of Massachusetts, analysed more than 170,000 projects, to help explain what leads some open source software projects to ongoing collaborative success and others to early abandonment.

During the project initiation stage (before first release):
  • Key success factors were:
    • Leadership by doing (working more hours).
    • Clear vision.
    • Well-articulated goals.
  • Minor correlations with success were:
    • Project marketing.
    • Knowledge continuity: Someone on the project since its early days.
    • Specific and general reciprocity.
During the project growth stage (after first release):
  • Key success factors were:
    • Utility as represented by downloads.
    • Slightly larger development teams and attracting outside communities, although development team still can be small (2 – 3 people).
    • Clear project vision and goals established and articulated.
    • Leadership by doing.
    • Open Source Software experience.
    • Marketing of the project.
  • Minor correlations with success were:

    • Task granularity: Projects have small tasks ready for people who only can contribute small bits of time.
    • Financial backing.
    • A diversity of motivations from within the team.
    • More formalized institutions exist in a relatively small number of cases, but these tend to fall in the successful growth class.
Charlie has kindly shared raw data from the study, which I've extracted out into graphs:
Success rate of Open Source Projects (source data)
As you can see, most projects are abandoned. Of those that are successful, the vast majority of them are retain a small, sustained team. However, attracting external developers greatly increases your chance of long term success. (A project which attracts 10 or more developers is a 1 in 100 project). 

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