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Lowering Open Source Contribution Barriers

At this time of year within the Eclipse community, a lot of reflection goes on as we just shipped a major release. Personally, I have been reflecting on a statement from an article:

…the strength of Mozilla, for example, is that it has figured out how to enable 40 percent of its development to be done by outside contributors. The downside is that these contributors are techies, but the upside is that they’re techies who add language packs, accessibility features, and other “niche” areas that Mozilla might otherwise struggle to deliver.

This suggests a start: enable your open-source project to accept meaningful outside contributions that make the project reflective of a wider development community.

But the real goldmine is broadening the definition of “developer” to include lay users of your software. The day that I, as a nontechnical software user, can meaningfully participate in an open-source project is the day that open source will truly have won.

What has Eclipse done to broaden the definition of a developer?

As Bjorn Freemen-Benson wrote, Eclipse enabled people to contribute translations via the Babel project. The Babel project is setup to accept translation contributions in 34 languages for about 40+ Eclipse projects. As a matter of fact, Babel had a recent release where there were some positive statistics on how translations are coming along.

What else? How about improving our documentation process?

I’m fond of what the Mylyn project does with its documentation. The Mylyn User Guide is crowdsourced via the Eclipsepedia wiki. This enables the Mylyn team to leverage their user community to help contribute documentation and have it appear in the official help documentation. As far as I know, the Mylyn project is currently the only Eclipse project doing this.

How about interacting with talented artists within our user community? I griped about this awhile ago. I had an idea about creating a GraphicsZilla where people can submit requests for graphics and having things tracked… just like we do with bugs!

Also, how about us making it easier for users to file bugs? My ideal would be to see some type of feedback agent included in Eclipse to facilitate users filing bugs. I think we have come a long way with Mylyn integration in Ecilpse… there’s some just loose ends that need to be tied up to make the experience even easier for users.

Other than that… that’s all that comes out of my head at the moment.

In my opinion, we have a great community… we just need to figure out how to leverage it more.

crowdsource

What do you think Eclipse can do to broaden the definition of a developer?

As a Eclipse committer, it’s hard for me to put myself in the perspective of a user… but I try 😉

  • In Eclipse we have lot of frameworks for which the ends users are the developers (engineers) itself. When it comes to Mozilla, the end users are lay users without technical knowledge.

    For eg, if you take the JDT team, the developers of the JDT editor are the end users for the JDT.

    Hence, does the ‘Apple’ comparison with ‘Eclipse’ make sense!!! But definitely, specialized areas where intensive graphics is used, we may need graphics specialists to lay their hands.

  • In Eclipse we have lot of frameworks for which the ends users are the developers (engineers) itself. When it comes to Mozilla, the end users are lay users without technical knowledge.

    For eg, if you take the JDT team, the developers of the JDT editor are the end users for the JDT.

    Hence, does the ‘Apple’ comparison with ‘Eclipse’ make sense!!! But definitely, specialized areas where intensive graphics is used, we may need graphics specialists to lay their hands.

  • Kim Sullivan

    I always had the impression that you have to be a paying member of the foundation to be eligible for commiter status. While trying to verify this I couldn’t find anything that supports this claim, but some marketing efforts in this direction might be worthwhile.

    Interestingly, the same Bjorn who wants meaningful outside contributions is also the one who suggests removing free binary packages from the eclipse site in favor of “commercial” distros (http://eclipse-projects.blogspot.com/2009/04/not-product.html), thereby raising the bar to entry.

    Also, what happens if a volunteer contributor really wants to implement some feature, but that feature is the basis of one of the commercial offerings, and the free codebase is maintained by the developers of said offering? There is no second guessing of purpose in Mozilla, everyone is in the same boat and the feeling is that people doing it all share the same goal. Again, Bjorn wants to strengthen the position of individual member companies so they get enough bang for the buck.

    So, in my opinion, technical barriers to entry (like the ease of filing bugs or writing documentation on a wiki) are just one part of the puzzle. The other part is making people feel their contributions are welcomed and meaningful, that they won’t be rejected or just silently ignored because the people who are in control of the code have their own commercial interests.

  • Kim Sullivan

    I always had the impression that you have to be a paying member of the foundation to be eligible for commiter status. While trying to verify this I couldn’t find anything that supports this claim, but some marketing efforts in this direction might be worthwhile.

    Interestingly, the same Bjorn who wants meaningful outside contributions is also the one who suggests removing free binary packages from the eclipse site in favor of “commercial” distros (http://eclipse-projects.blogspot.com/2009/04/not-product.html), thereby raising the bar to entry.

    Also, what happens if a volunteer contributor really wants to implement some feature, but that feature is the basis of one of the commercial offerings, and the free codebase is maintained by the developers of said offering? There is no second guessing of purpose in Mozilla, everyone is in the same boat and the feeling is that people doing it all share the same goal. Again, Bjorn wants to strengthen the position of individual member companies so they get enough bang for the buck.

    So, in my opinion, technical barriers to entry (like the ease of filing bugs or writing documentation on a wiki) are just one part of the puzzle. The other part is making people feel their contributions are welcomed and meaningful, that they won’t be rejected or just silently ignored because the people who are in control of the code have their own commercial interests.

  • Hi Chris,
    part of your feedback agent already exists with Mylyns capabilities to report bugs from inside eclipse. I believe it is time now for all eclipse projects to make use of Mylyns extension points. An actual agent or wizard could then go on top of it.
    Best regards,
    Andreas

  • Hi Chris,
    part of your feedback agent already exists with Mylyns capabilities to report bugs from inside eclipse. I believe it is time now for all eclipse projects to make use of Mylyns extension points. An actual agent or wizard could then go on top of it.
    Best regards,
    Andreas