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, Christopher, Prechelt Lutz, and Thiel Florian
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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