Vreugdenhil

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Project Title

The influence of social network structure on the chance of success of Open Source software project communities

Researchers

Bart Vreugdenhil, RSM Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

R. Smit, Department of Decision and Information Sciences, RSM Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

Project Abstract

Four main conclusions can be drawn based on the unexpected research findings. First, although here the social network structure of an Open Source software project community has no significant relationship with community success, it does not necessarily mean it is not of importance. Apparently, social network analysis cannot solely explain factors affecting the chance on success of an OSSP community. Though, relationships between OSSP members are important, the individuals (and their characteristics) establishing these relationships need to be taken into account as well.

Secondly, the Open Source software project community is a new kind of social entity, because current theory of virtual communities and traditional teams and groups creating information and knowledge products cannot explain the exceptional performance levels OSSPs can achieve. Here, the premature theory of smart business networks is presented as linking-pin to further explore these kind of social entities.

Thirdly, although a premature theory is supplied to further describe the Open Source phenomenon, it cannot explain the difference in research findings between large and small OSSP communities. Here, an attempt is done to explain this difference. Where small OSSP communities can be conceived of as operating similar to traditional groups and teams, though their mode of communication is electronic, large OSSP communities can be conceived of as virtual communities. However, it is also generally noted large OSSP communities have onion-like structures including a core of developers and are surrounded by a crowd of interested people. Thus, the difference between small and large OSSP communities is this crowd. Apparently, large OSSP communities are able to deal with this crowd, without the disadvantages related to the management and organization of (growth of) traditional teams and groups. By using the 'Long Tail', a popular description of the impact of the internet's infrastructure and technology on business models, is tried to explain the difference in the basic principles of small and large OSSPs. Where large OSSPs, due to their popularity, are positioned in the hit market and are generally focused on community outcome by trying to optimally incorporate the 'wisdom of the crowds-effect' to improve their software product, small OSSPs operate in niche markets and are generally focused on individual outcome.

Lastly, although researchers have not reached consensus on how to measure success of OSSP communities, here is concluded the current set of indicators for measuring the success of OSSP communities are focused on the hit markets in which large OSSPs operate, and are not suitable for the endless variety of niche markets in which small OSSPs. A new approach is needed, in which success factors for hit markets may be focused on the level of community success, and success factors for niche markets may be focused on the level of individual success of project members.

References

  • Bart Vreugdenhil, The influence of social network structure on the chance of success of Open Source software project communities, Unpublished MS Thesis, RSM Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, March 2009.