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The Attraction of Contributors in FLOSS

02/11/2011 @ 7:30 pm - 11:00 pm

The Attraction of Contributors in Free/Libre and Open Source Software

For this talk, we are honoured to have Dr Carlos Denner discuss FLOSS projects and describe how the various aspects of a project determine how attractive that project is to the contributors who could improve it further.

Dr Denner is a researcher at the Horizon Institute, University of Nottingham.


All at our usual venue:

Fellows Morton and Clayton
54 Canal Street
Nottingham, NG1 7EH
Telephone: 0115 9506795

To find us,  go through to the back of the pub and we’re up the spiral staircase in the restaurant. Just ask one of the friendly bar staff for NLUG if lost.

Food is also served through into the evening.


Wednesday 02/11/2011:

  • 7:30pm: Meet
  • 8:00pm: Talk
  • 9:00pm: General discussions

Cuddly Gnus, Penguins, and All welcome!





7:30 pm - 11:00 pm
Event Category:


Fellows Morton and Clayton
54 Canal Street
Nottingham, NG1 7EH United Kingdom
+ Google Map
0115 9506795

20 comments to The Attraction of Contributors in FLOSS

  • martin

    Thanks to Carlos for a very interesting talk. And thanks again Carlos for making time for our group just before returning to Brazil.

    The paper mentioned is Attractiveness of Free and Open Source Software Projects – Presented at 18th ECIS (pdf). There is a more recent and updated version that is awaiting publication – TBA.

    So… The main message I picked up is that, at least from the examples seen on sourceforge, sponsorship of some kind is required for a FLOSS project to survive. Also, that in the business world there is a strong view that secrecy and controlled/restricted use are the most profitable ways to go. Hence with that ‘business view’, the freedom guaranteed by the GPL is seen as being ‘restrictive’ for business exploitation! And yet, big business also depends upon, and has gained high profitability from, the use of GPL-protected FLOSS…

    A particularly interesting comment from Carlos is: “The range of uses is smaller with the GPL, however the fewer uses that the code eventually finds will be kept public. It is a price that you have to pay to guarantee that eventual derivative work will be public.”

    Another aspect is that there can be some very strongly held (pure?) views that contrast starkly between some parts of the business world and those of the FLOSS world. So much so as to be likened to an uncompromising religious war. Is that really more than just a difference of philosophies? Is there also a contest between those businesses that profit from FLOSS vs those that depend upon exploiting less open business strategies?

    For further study?… 😉

    For the figures in the “Open Source Family Portrait”, we’ve identified:

    Richard Matthew Stallman (“rms”);
    Eric S Raymond (“esr”) holding “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” book;
    The old Evolution logo before Gnome;
    Microsoft (Windows);
    Camel toolkit for Apache;
    Blowfish (with a trident);
    BSD Daemon;
    Tux (Linux kernel);
    Duke (Java);
    Wilbur (GIMP);
    Apache feather;
    OpenOffice notebook;
    X Windows dice;
    GTK dice;
    And all seem to be enjoying a lovely cup of Java on a Gnome tablecloth.

    Is the Java mascot using its own teapot rather than the system provided one?…

    Anything we’ve missed?

    And the other portrait is of Skipper, Kowalski, Private and Rico! 🙂 (And is SKiPpeR yet another of those recursive self-referential acronym thingies?! 😮 )


  • martin

    Two recent articles that highlight the importance and significance of ‘what licence’ to use are:

    Open core or dual licensing? The example of MySQL


    Open Source, Open Science, Open Source Science.

    The first example demonstrates the difference in view/perspective between ‘traditional’ business exploitation and (altruistic) contributors, and the ensuing manoeuvring to try a new model of licensing/business. There is also the example there of what encourages a ‘fork’ of the project to be made.

    The science example shows how licensing/embargoes driven by business motives can act to undermine the very subject being supported.

    Thankfully, so far we have a choice!

    One thought is whether two useful categorisations of software might be (1:) “infrastructure” for software that is very widely used (and should be freely available?) where open licensing is appropriate, and (2:) that of “niche” for software that has a very small audience and could only ever exist in a ‘business’ setting. (Then again, there’s also a lot of ‘niche’ software written as a one-off by individuals for whatever myriad individual reasons, but how many of those ever get to see a wider audience?)


  • Martin L

    Some real-world examples are published by 42 authors on:

    Open source players share their experiences in CC-BY-SA book

    Forty-two contributors from a variety of open source projects have shared their open source development experiences in a new book entitled “Open Advice”. Each author has written a short piece based on their personal experience on what they wished they had known when they started out in open source. Not all of the authors are programmers – contributors also include those who have contributed to open source as, for example, designers, organisers and package maintainers.


  • Martin L

    An interesting observation in the world of Android (Bionic/Linux):

    Why a tablet victory for Android is problematic for Free Software

    … Such customised systems are likely to be as locked down as they can be – the last thing either manufacturers or companies want is for users to start fiddling with the settings or installing their own software. As a result, the apps that run on such systems are likely to be closed source, since that’s the way vertical markets tend to work.

    Such systems will also expose a persistent problem with the open source development methodology. While big and general projects find it relatively easy to attract interested developers, smaller, more targeted solutions tend not to thrive as free software.

    The way around this is to create a common framework for such vertical tablet applications. That’s a big project that coders might want to join, since it addresses general programming issues…

    And one comment is:

    … For a closed system, hackers still break in. It is a cult that wants to learn and to exploit. Here again, security flaws are detected, but not reported, because the flaw is saved to be exploited. The buglets are fixed, when Apple can get to it. Open Source systems have a few thousand of skilled programmers to find and fix buglets. Apple has not got that kind of human capital. Ergo, maintenance costs for Apple devices are much much more expensive and response times for a software fix are much much longer to be provided.

  • Martin L

    One very practical example of cooperative sponsorship is:

    Improved OOXML support for LibreOffice and OpenOffice

    … The German municipalities of Munich, Jena and Freiburg, and the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland, the Swiss Federal IT Steering Unit (FITSU) and the Swiss Canton of Vaud – who together use OpenOffice on around 18,000 workstations – have jointly raised €140,000 (approximately £109,000) funding for the project.

    The goal is to improve the way in which Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents that have been saved in the Microsoft-developed OOXML format can be imported, displayed and edited. …

  • Martin L

    For a brief selection of associated research and reports:

    Sustainability of Free/Libre Open Source Projects: A Longitudinal Study (Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 2010)

    Free/Libre and Open Source Software: Survey and Study – FLOSS FINAL REPORT (International Institute of Infonomics, University of Maastricht, The Netherlands, Berlecon Research GmbH, Berlin, Germany, June 2002)

    The impact of Free/Libre Open Source Software on innovation and competitiveness of the European Union (European Commission, 2006)

    FLOSSSim: Understanding the Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) Development Process through Agent-Based Modeling (Radtke, Nicholas P. PhD thesis 2011)

    Identifying Success and Abandonment of Free/Libre and Open Source (FLOSS) Commons: A Preliminary Classification of Sourceforge.net projects (Upgrade: The European Journal for the Informatics Professional, Journal issue on “Free Software: Research and Development”, 2011)

  • Martin L

    ‘Open Source’ and ‘open source contribution’ get into the popular press:

    BBC – Open-source project to get gadgets talking via the net:

    More than 5,400 developers have downloaded a new open-source operating system [webinos] designed to enable digital devices to communicate with each other. …

    … The open-source movement has grown steadily in recent years. …

    … Ultimately the success of an open-source project relies on it being able to sustain interest among its users.

    “There are lots and lots of open-source projects which never attract a community,” …

    “They are released and the codes go online, but they aren’t quite useful enough to build a head of steam. Open source means anyone can look but not that anyone actually will.” …

    BBC – Why companies must adopt the open source way:

    In a fast changing global marketplace, businesses increasingly rely on technology that enables them to innovate and respond quickly to the evolving business environment. …

    … Open source’s potential for delivering significant savings to the bottom line, resulting from the lack of software licence fees…

    … But the lack of license fees is not the only advantage of open source.

    The members of an open source community have a shared ethos, namely that by sharing code and collaborating they can create better software.

    In doing so, open source delivers innovative solutions to business problems, faster and cheaper. …

    (Dries Buytaert says Drupal‘s strongest asset is its vast community of developers)

  • Martin L

    And here is good comment and examples about funding FLOSS projects:

    How can we pay for Free Software?

    One of the great things about free software is that it’s free in both senses. But it’s also a problem for the people who write it, since it makes earning a living from doing so hard. How people have managed to do that has gradually evolved over time. …

    • Martin L

      For examples of one developer’s experiences and ideas:

      How to earn a living making Open Source software

      Let’s talk, for a minute, about some of the ways one can make a living by creating Open Source software.

      Let’s get this out of the way right up front – I am a big supporter of Open Source licensing, and have dedicated a large portion of the last 6+ years to actively advocating its usage. That being said, I’m also a realist. I’m interested in practical, concrete examples and approaches to funding full-time development of Open and Free software. …

      Recently, an interesting phenomenon launched in 2009 that has hit the news is:

      Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects.

      That is also helping FLOSS projects…

  • Martin L

    Here is an interesting example of FLOSS in action for the benefit of a user and contributor, and for everyone else:

    The forkers saving open source from a corporate bear hug

    Open … and Shut. Open source has long had a strong corporate element to it, perhaps starting in earnest when IBM pledged to spend $1bn on Linux back in 2000. Despite the benefits of corporate funding of open-source software – more money, more source code written – some question whether open source has become too corporate. For those who worry about the commercialisation of open source, I’d like to introduce you to Pedro Algarvio, contributor to the SaltStack project.

    Algarvio is interesting because he fits the original mold of the open-source developer: he writes code because he loves it, and not because he gets paid to do so…

  • Martin L

    There is a book by Charles M. Schweik and Robert C. English published 08/06/2012 detailing their survey study of the success or otherwise of sourceforge projects:

    (Amazon Books) Internet Success: A Study of Open-Source Software Commons

    The use of open-source software (OSS) — readable software source code that can be copied, modified, and distributed freely — has expanded dramatically in recent years. The number of OSS projects hosted on SourceForge.net (the largest hosting Web site for OSS), for example, grew from just over 100,000 in 2006 to more than 250,000 at the beginning of 2011. But why are some projects successful — that is, able to produce usable software and sustain ongoing development over time — while others are abandoned? In this book, the product of the first large-scale empirical study to look at social, technical, and institutional aspects of OSS, Charles Schweik and Robert English examine factors that lead to success in OSS projects and work toward a better understanding of Internet-based collaboration…

    They have even made their data available in a spirit of openness, so that others can better understand and possibly reproduce some of our research:


  • Martin L

    Linaro, a not-for-profit engineering organization that works on consolidating and optimizing open source software for the ARM architecture gets some exposure by The Register:

    Linaro Linux-on-ARM effort sets sights on network gear

    The non-profit Linaro software engineering effort , established two summers ago to whip the Linux kernel and add-ons to create the Linux platform for mobile devices, is setting its sights on myriad networking devices. …

    … And thus Linaro was created in June 2010 by Freescale Semiconductor, Samsung, ST-Ericsson, Texas Instruments, and believe it or not IBM, which doesn’t have very much skin in the ARM game and is likely just hedging its bets.

    Last November, social network and bespoke server maker Facebook joined the Linaro effort and helped start an enterprise group aimed at ARM server implementations and specifically charged with working on low-level booting and kernel software for 32-bit and 64-bit variants of Linux.

    Server maker Hewlett-Packard and ARM server chip upstarts Calxeda and Advanced Micro Devices are in the Linaro enterprise group, and so is Samsung…

    The thing to remember is that Linaro is not creating an ARM Linux distribution, but is rather the means through which work is done so others can do better Linux distributions for ARM. …

    A comment in one of the comments for that article gives a very nice summing up:

    … The ARM ecosystem is so varied that one size definitely does not fit all … but there are plenty of common problems. Linaro performs a similar function as any good industry body where it makes sense to pool resources but none of the companies are in it for the philanthropy, it is purely “enlightened self-interest” in an area where the benefits of co-operation are greater than risks of competition.

  • Martin L

    Free’s a crowd-funding

    With the recent high profile success of hardware and software projects raising millions of dollars through crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, Fabian Scherschel looks at what it takes for open source software projects to duplicate this success…

    … It’s not just proprietary products and projects that have seen success with crowdfunding; a number of open source projects have managed to fund their development, but many have also fallen short. What is it about the successful campaigns that has made them work?…

  • Martin L

    What’s in a (Free Software project) name?

    Trademarks, names and reputation. Glyn Moody looks at the problems that arise when trying to keep control of your reputation and the different approaches taken by open source software projects.

    Is it Linux or GNU/Linux? It seems such a trivial matter, but of course in the world of free software, it is anything but. It would be interesting to tot up how many thousands – millions? – of words have been written arguing for one form or the other, and how many thousands of hours have been expended.

    The discussion continues in part because geeks like accuracy, and also because they rather like arguing and scoring points over their opponents. But there is a deeper reason why people get so engaged by issues of naming, I think, and that’s because attribution matters hugely in the world of free software.

  • Martin L

    Already, a decade of WordPress: Ten Good Years

    It’s been ten years since we started this thing, and what a long way we’ve come. From a discussion between myself and Mike Little about forking our favorite blogging software, to powering 18% of the web. It’s been a crazy, exciting, journey, and one that won’t stop any time soon.

    At ten years, it’s fun to reflect on our beginnings. We launched WordPress on 27th May 2003, but that wasn’t inception. Go back far enough, and…

    … Sometimes, however, life gets in the way. In 2002, Michel stopped maintaining b2. Over time, security flaws became apparent and updates were needed…

    … From the very beginning to the present day, I’ve been impressed by the thought, care, and dedication that WordPress’ developers have demonstrated. Each one has brought his or her unique perspective, each individual has strengthened the whole. …

    … when WordPress was created most of us were still learning PHP, but we try to make a flawless experience for users.

    It’s not all about developers. WordPress’ strength lies in the diversity of its community. From the start, we wanted a low barrier to entry and we came up with our “famous 5 minute install”. …

    … It’s been wonderful to see all of the people who have used WordPress to build their home on the internet. …

    … As the web evolves, WordPress evolves. … while remaining true to its core values: making publishing online easy for everyone. How we rise to these challenges will be what defines WordPress over the coming ten years.

    To celebrate ten years of WordPress, we’re working on a book about our history. …

    Spectacular stuff and this website shows that it all works well and easy. Easy enough even for me! Spectacular indeed! 🙂

  • carlosdenner

    Hi Martin!

    The paper that summarizes the discussion we had that day is finally out: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963868712000340

    A copy is available here as well: https://carlosdenner.blogspot.com.br/p/publicacoes.html


  • Martin L

    Here is a good story and very good summary by Jelmer Vernooij of how one prominent project became out-evolved in the world of version control systems by a certain Git

    Bazaar-NG: 7 years of hacking on a distributed version control system

    For the last 7 years I’ve been involved in the Bazaar project. As I’m slowly stepping down from the project, I thought I would write up a retrospective of both my involvement in the project and thoughts on what went well and what did not…

    Sometime late in 2004 or early 2005 … working on a prototype of a new version of their version control system, Bazaar … baz on the command-line – was a fork of GNU arch…

    Another notable event at LCA 2005 was tridge’s infamous presentation about the BitKeeper protocol. This talk eventually resulted in Larry McVoy stopping the free version of BitKeeper, and that prompted Linus to start hacking on Git and Matt Mackall to start on Mercurial. Of course, none of us could predict any of this was going to happen at the time…

    … And the rest became history…

    I found that example interesting for that project ‘looking good’ to then be overtaken by outside political and development events regardless. Thus we now have Git gaining majority favour, regardless of imperfections.

    The article appears to be from around mid 2012. Note the naming for the Bazaar project and the book by esr: “The Cathedral and the Bazaar“.

  • Martin L

    What is this?… Some big corporates helping out to make more FLOSS projects succeed?… Here is what The Register reports:

    This time it’s SO REAL: Overcoming the open-source orgasm myth with TODO

    What can the world learn from Google, Twitter and Facebook – apart from how to make millions through ads flinging? How to run a successful open-source project.

    The trio in September announced TODO, to make open-source project “easier.” Joining them are Dropbox and Box and code-site GitHub, payment providers Square and Stripe, US retailer WalMart Labs and a body called the Khan Academy…

    … successful open source is something most in this sector believe they are well acquainted with – and yet there are plenty of failed open-source projects. Failure is important because open source has become a way of life spanning thousands of projects and committers…

    … Million-dollar firms and billion-dollar markets are now dependent upon open source.

    But let’s come back to failure. For some reason, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Co feel they need to step up with some kind of consortium to get open-source right…

    All a question of how you spin the web?

    Perhaps this is one development to watch to see if beyond the game of recursive acronyms so often enjoyed by projects, whether this project itself succeeds!


    ps: There is a puntastic rather than recursive meaning to note:

    TODO has another meaning

    In case anyone missed it (though I’m sure the contributing companies didn’t) TODO is also Spanish for EVERYTHING. Just saying 🙂

  • Martin L

    Here is an example of how time and developments can move on to overtake a successful long running project:

    The Register: M0n0wall comes tumbling down as dev throws in the trowel

    … The open-source m0n0wall firewall project has been discontinued.

    The project’s author, Manuel Kaspar, has posted that his reason for pulling the plug is simple: “there are now better solutions available and under active development”.

    The end of the project is in part illustrative of the challenges that face any small-scale open source developers: although Kaspar’s 12-year effort has spawned other projects (he cites FreeNAS, pfSense and AskoziaPBX), he feels unable to keep pace with larger projects.

    The end of the freeBSD-based effort was announced on its 12th anniversary…

    The comments to that article start with the flourish that “Financial models matter”… And although that comment does name a certain extreme example, there is also the example of how the m0n0wall continued for over a decade. There are many ways to different measures of success…

  • Martin L

    Here is a recent example of the power of freedom for a high profile project and for how the ‘freedom’ includes the community of contributors, users and supporters. The Register reports:

    Fork YOU! Sure, take the code. Then what?

    Why people matter in open source…

    … forking a small project you find on GitHub is not a big deal. There’s even a handy button to make it easy to fork it…

    … Thinking that all you need to do to make a project yours is to fork it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what large free/open source projects are – at their hearts, they are communities…

    … One can, on the other hand, walk out of a project, bring all the other core developers along, and essentially leave the original an empty husk…

    … In short, Nextcloud solved most of ownCloud‘s problems in the time it took ownCloud to write a bitter blog post, which should go a long way to showing why the Nextcloud fork will likely end up the successful fork in the long run – community support.

    Nextcloud is just a few weeks old, but it’s already got big plans…

    … The take-away? Once again we’ve seen how FOSS is more than just software – it’s a way for people to write software, and when the people and philosophy behind the project fall out of step with their community, the project dies. Or gets forked.


    There is a lot of value in people, communities, and freedom: FLOSS.

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