Socialization in an Open Source Software Community: A Socio-Technical Analysis

TitleSocialization in an Open Source Software Community: A Socio-Technical Analysis
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
Secondary TitleComputer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW)
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
ISSN Number0925-9724
Keywordscvs, developers, email, email archive, mailing list, open source project browser, participation, python, scm, source code, team, tools

Open Source Software (OSS) development is often characterized as a fundamentally new way to develop software. Past analyses and discussions, however, have treated OSS projects and their organization mostly as a static phenomenon. Consequently, we do not know how these communities of software developers are sustained and reproduced over time through the progressive integration of new members. To shed light on this issue I report on my analyses of socialization in a particular OSS community. In particular, I document the relationships OSS newcomers develop over time with both the social and material aspects of a project. To do so, I combine two mutually informing activities: ethnography and the use of software specially designed to visualize and explore the interacting networks of human and material resources incorporated in the email and code databases of OSS. Socialization in this community is analyzed from two perspectives: as an individual learning process and as a political process. From these analyses it appears that successful participants progressively construct identities as software craftsmen, and that this process is punctuated by specific rites of passage. Successful participants also understand the political nature of software development and progressively enroll a network of human and material allies to support their efforts. I conclude by discussing how these results could inform the design of software to support socialization in OSS projects, as well as practical implications for the future of these projects.


"I present the results of my analyses of participation patterns in a particular OSS project, used as a case study: Python. More precisely, I use the Open Source Project Browser to qualitatively track and analyze the trajectories of several project members who evolved (or not) into full-fledged participants. This allows me to later discuss how socialization proceeds in an OSS community such as Python"

"Over the course of 2002, I progressively retrieved the entire email archive of python-dev (the developers’ mailing list) and the CVS source tree for the project. "

"I read the entirety of the messages written by these participants and also looked at the software code they produced. There were striking similarities between their progressions over time, which I will de- scribe shortly. Overall the trajectory of these participants reflects successful socialization in Python: an evolution from newcomer to developer."

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