OII SDP 2007 (XIX): The Social Structure of Open Source Developer Community

Student research seminar: Cindy Shen

Two metaphors– “the cathedral and the bazaar” – are widely used to characterize the organizational structure of the development model of commercial software and that of OSS. While “cathedral” represents rigid hierarchy and centralized control, the “bazaar” model of OSS represents an egalitarian network of developers free of hierarchical structure. Powerful as they are, these two metaphors may help to spread a rather stylized image of the OSS. Empirical studies of OSS show highly skewed distribution and power law relationships of project sizes, project membership, and cluster sizes of the OSS community, but the underlying mechanisms of those power law relationships remain under explored.

This on-going project extends knowledge on OSS by empirically examining the social structure of the OSS community and the mechanisms of the developer network formation. Two research questions are asked: 1) To what extent is OSS community hierarchical? 2) What attributes of the developers are associated with network structure? A developer network was extracted from the SourceForge.net data archive, in which nodes represent developers and links are defined as co-participation in the same projects. In the presentation I will show some preliminary results from p* network analysis, and also plans for future research.

It does not seem that the two models presented by Raymond (1999) are that polarized:

  • the importance of project leadership suggests the presence of hierarchy
  • Highly skewed distributino of projects
  • Power-law relationshiop
  • The “lone” developer

It would be interesting to abandon flagship projects (e.g. Linux) and analyze failing projects too. Also try and go beyond case studies and non-representative samples.

Is Open Source Software (OSS) a network form of organization? does power come from authority, resource control and network centrality? (Astley and Sacheva, 1984). Is power acquired by one’s position in the network?

Or is OSS formed through reputation mechanisms? Coordination mechanisms in a network form of organization come from trust, reputation, status, legitimacy… Do people with reputation/status attract ties? And the contrary, does reputation is achievable through network membership?

My reflections

  • Lone leaders might actually be webmasters that just got their admin account at SourceForge just to upload the packager

More info

SDP 2007 related posts (2007)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2007) “OII SDP 2007 (XIX): The Social Structure of Open Source Developer Community” In ICTlogy, #46, July 2007. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
Retrieved month dd, yyyy from http://ictlogy.net/review/?p=595

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