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SourceForge: An Open Source Tale - page 4

The Future's So Bright

  • October 22, 2007
  • By James Maguire
To talk with some of the leading developers at SourceForge is to understand the unusually wide open nature of the community.

For some of the newer projects, contributing is as easy as sending an email and offering your services. Remarkably, even for many of the most popular projects--downloaded millions of times--new people are welcome if they're willing to work.

"We're a meritocracy," explains Gallery leader Mediratta. "We have a Web page where we tell people how to join the development team. People show up, and we give them a task. If they complete that, we give them another two more. They establish a track record, and over time we get to know them and we basically give them a role."

Indeed, SourceForge embraces open source at more than one level. The software is open source--anyone can see the code, anyone can alter it--and membership in the community is just as open.

"I've always been welcoming and inviting about getting people involved, because I realized early on what a massive project it would be," says Audacity's Mazzoni. He's well aware he needs to trade some control for coding help.

"I took the early approach: trust people now, until they give me a reason not to. I would grant someone CVS access almost instantly. I would say, 'Let me know when you're going to check something in and I'll look it over.' And not once did we ever have to revoke CVS privileges. Once or twice we would roll back a change somebody made, because they hadn't thought it through very well. But we never had anyone abuse the privilege."

Naturally, these days it takes considerably more time to achieve that level of privilege in the venerable Audacity project. Still, no one gets turned away.

"When someone comes along, we throw a few ideas at them, we point them to the documentation. And nine times out of ten it goes nowhere. Because the person is in way over their head," Mazzoni explains. "A lot of people in that boat, it may be that they've only been programming for a year. And Audacity is not a great place to start. It's 150,000 lines of code. It's C++. A program of that complexity is way beyond someone who's still struggling with the basic concepts of programming. It needs someone who has a certain level of maturity.

"Luckily, it's not that much effort for us for those nine [people], and then that last one out of ten, it's really valuable, because someone will start with something really easy--they'll make a patch." Then they'll build up from there.

"We really don't have to tell people how to develop. They usually have their own idea. And if they're capable, they'll just jump right into it."

And that, in a nutshell, is what drives SourceForge's success. It has tapped the power of community--in the truest sense of the word. A real community, a thriving community, is never a closed loop. It allows in new ideas, new concepts, shared input, a constant (if at times raucous) back and forth. Along the way, it produces things of value--software--and provides its members with a sense of belonging. If a community can do those things, it will always be a success.

This article originally appeared on Datamation, an OnlineJupiterMedia site.

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