Is open-source "difficult"?

September 11, 2008 Jack Repenning

Has Matt Asay lost his way? In a post with a title about managing an open-source community, built up of comments about patching an open source project, and ending with a complaint about how hard it all is, he uncharacteristically never touches the actual question of community. Open-source projects are community works, not baskets for drive-by
contribution, little falling-away jump shot-patches. Open-source folk
like to call themselves a "meritocracy," and there’s a lot of truth to
that, but what you really need to advance in an open-source community
is contribution: your merit has to be shown by strengthening the community, not just lobbing code-bombs over the ridge.

Still, while community membership requires more than "casual contribution," you shouldn’t have to "become a key member."  You should make a reasonable effort to match coding styles and other conventions of the project. You should be prepared to discuss your changes with some more plugged-in member, for clarifications and alternatives. You should hang around long enough to see your changes make it into a release, and confirm that they work as you expected. And you should be prepared to help others learn the community ropes, at least for a while.

The Subversion project’s "Hacker’s Guide to Subversion" strikes a pretty reasonable balance:

If you just want to file bugs–or even patches–and have someone else deal with the rest, you’re thinking in paid-support terms. For the most interesting open-source projects, you can find that easily enough. Here at CollabNet, we’re happy to provide that service for Subversion
users. Indeed, we do the same thing routinely for customers of all our
products, representing their needs into the communities of the many
open-source projects whose work we use. But it’s something separate from the core of open-source, which is the community.

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