The open source software development phenomenon: An analysis based on social network theory

TitleThe open source software development phenomenon: An analysis based on social network theory
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsMadey, G, Freeh, V, Tynan, R
Secondary TitleProceedings of the Eighth Americas Conference on Information Systems
Keywordsdevelopers, social network analysis, social networks, sourceforge

The OSS movement is a phenomenon that challenges many traditional theories in economics, software engineering, business strategy, and IT management. Thousands of software programmers are spending tremendous amounts of time and effort writing and debugging software, most often with no direct monetary compensation. The programs, some of which are extremely large and complex, are written without the benefit of traditional project management, change tracking, or error checking techniques. Since the programmers are working outside of a traditional organizational reward structure, accountability is an issue as well. A significant portion of internet e-commerce runs on OSS, and thus many firms have little choice but to trust mission-critical e-commerce systems to run on such software, requiring IT management to deal with new types of socio-technical problems. A better understanding of how the OSS community functions may help IT planners make more informed decisions and develop more effective strategies for using OSS software. We hypothesize that open source software development can be modeled as self-organizing, collaboration, social networks. We analyze structural data on over 39,000 open source projects hosted at involving over 33,000 developers. We define two software developers to be connected part of a collaboration social network if they are members of the same project, or are connected by a chain of connected developers. Project sizes, developer project participation, and clusters of connected developers are analyzed. We find evidence to support our hypothesis, primarily in the presence of power-law relationships on project sizes (number of developers per project), project membership (number of projects joined by a developer), and cluster sizes. Potential implications for IT researchers, IT managers, and governmental policy makers are discussed.

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