The onion has cancer: some social network analysis visualizations of open source project communication

TitleThe onion has cancer: some social network analysis visualizations of open source project communication
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsOezbek, C, Prechelt, L, Thiel, F
Secondary TitleProceedings of the 3rd International Workshop on Emerging Trends in Free/Libre/Open Source Software Research and Development (FLOSS '10)
Place PublishedNew York, NY, USA
ISBN Number978-1-60558-978-7
Keywordsargouml, Bochs, bugzilla, communication structure, Flyspray, gEDA, Grub, MonetDB, open source process, request tracker, Rox, social network analysis, Xfce

Background: People contribute to OSS projects in wildly different degrees, from reporting a single defect once and never coming back to spending many hours each workday on the project over several years - or anything in between. It is a common conception that these degrees of participation sort the participants into a number of similar groups which are layered like the peels of an onion: The onion model. Objective: We check whether this model of gradually different degrees of participation is valid with respect to the participation in OSS project mailing-list traffic. Methods: We perform social network analysis based on replies to mailing-list messages and use visualization to check the nature of three different groups of participants. Results: There appears to be a discontinuity with respect to core members: The degree to which very active core members (as opposed to less active co-developers) react to e-mails of senders from the project's periphery is significantly higher than would be expected from their level of activity in general. Limitations: The effect might be an artifact of the assumption that each mailing-list message can be treated the same. Conclusions: We conclude that core member status may be qualitatively (rather than just quantitatively) different and the transition of individual mailing-list participants towards ever higher participation is qualitatively discontinuous.


paper d/l from

"We study the introduction of process innovations in Open Source projects [33] by manually extracting innovation episodes from arch- ives of mailing-lists and analyzing these episodes qualitatively by the Grounded Theory Method [38]."

"we took all messages from the mailing-list archives in 2007 of the projects we were studying, turned each participant into a node (unifying multi- ple e-mail addresses where needed [6]), and computed relationship strength between A and B as the number of e-mails that are a reply of B to a message from A or vice versa, according to the in-reply-to header of the e-mail."

Our data set covers 11 of the 13 projects (from 7 different do- mains, selected from mailing-list archive Gmane to build a diverse set of projects) for which we analyzed innovation episodes. They include three workflow applications (Bugzilla, Flyspray, Request Tracker), two desktop environments (Rox, Xfce), two design tools (ArgoUML, a UML CASE tool; gEDA, a set of electronic design automation tools), one bootloader (Grub), one hardware emulator (Bochs), one operating system (FreeDOS), and one database man- agement system (MonetDB).

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