Lack of Maintainership & Finding a Project to Contribute to

One of the things I liked about the GNOME Documentation Hackfest (apart from the hospitality of Kat, Dave and the University of East Anglia) was the opportunity of teachers and students popping in and discussing open source project management related aspects with us.

One obvious topic is contributor involvement.
The Number Two question of people interested in contributing to GNOME (right after “How do I get started?”) is “I know programming language XYZ. Which projects would be good?”. Which leads to the question:
What are obstacles for contributors to find projects in language XYZ themselves?

And as volunteer based projects allow project maintainers or translation team leaders to disappear without a warning, new contributors might not realize or know where to escalate in order to become a new maintainer, especially if the single contact point of failure is a private email address of the previous maintainer who will never reply. New contributors do not know how to find out how “maintained” a project is – they would have to find the “log” page of the project on GNOME Git plus understand that translation updates are not a sign of development activity.
How to help contributors avoid writing a patch for an unmaintained dead rotten project where nobody will ever notice and appreciate their contribution?

This problem actually affects a larger group: Translators, documentators and bug reporters all waste time working on projects that will never see a release again. One year ago, one third of the non-archived modules in GNOME Git had not seen any code activity for more than two years. Obviously, these dead projects are not a good idea to contribute to if you have no experience in software project management yet but just want to contribute a small patch that scratches your own itch.

And as we discussed this I pointed to a university paper I wrote a year ago, comparing Apache and GNOME.
Realizing how often I refer to it it’s probably useful to link the PDF file:

Indicators for Missing Maintainership in Collaborative Open Source Projects (PDF)

Very quickly after that discussion, Frédéric created a “GNOME Project Health” webpage based on metrics in that paper.
Frédéric’s page allows to see which listed GNOME maintainers are active, how active the project is (the higher the score, the less activity exists), and in which programming language(s) the project is written. It’s a great start and I owe Frédéric a beer for it.

If you are a GNOME project maintainer you can help improving it:
If your project is mostly written in the programming languages X and Y, add the lines

<programming-language>X</programming-language>
<programming-language>Y</programming-language>

to the .doap file in the top level folder in Git, and check if the maintainers listed in the DOAP file do not collide with the reality out there.

2 Responses to “Lack of Maintainership & Finding a Project to Contribute to”

  1. Meg Ford says:

    My name is greyed out but I committed to that repo today :(

  2. aklapper says:

    @Meg You might want to check if the email address in Git and the email address in the DOAP file match.