The open-source collaboration gap


When it comes to open-source communities, individuals are much better citizens than institutions. The enlightened self-interest that causes individuals to send back bug fixes, contribute ideas for new features and write documentation is much harder to find in institutions. This week, the JargonSpy analyzes why such a gap exists and what can be done about it.

The first step in understanding this gap is to recognize the roots of open source. Almost all open-source projects begin as a community of individuals. A leader starts a project and publishes code on the Internet, and then others join in. As more people show up, community roles and rules develop.

The founder often assumes the role of "benevolent dictator for life." Certain community members, "committers," are permitted to change the master source code repository. Mailing lists are created for developers and for users. Support for the process in the form of licenses, source code repositories and patterns of success for community management smooth the way.

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