The GNOME Census project

4:34 pm community, freesoftware, gnome, guadec

I’ve been working on a project for the past few weeks, and it’s time to take the wraps off.

For as long as I’ve been involved in GNOME, we have been asked the same questions over and over again: How many GNOME developers are there? Which companies invest in GNOME, and how much? Where can I go for professional GNOME development services? And for as long as I’ve been involved in GNOME, the best answer that we can give is pretty hand-wavey – we talk about hundreds of developers, thousands of contributors, the advisory board, an ecosystem of expert independent companies, but we never do get around to putting meat on the bones.

I decided that we should do something about that, and so for the past few weeks, an intern called Vanessa has been working to help me dissect the underbelly of the GNOME project.

What is the GNOME Census?

We’re aiming to answer three questions as completely as we can:

  • Who develops GNOME, and what do they work on? What does the GNOME developer community look like? How many GNOME developers are there?And how many contributors doing things other than development?
  • What companies are investing in GNOME, and how? Are there modules where companies are co-operating, or have contributing companies been concentrating on disjoint parts of the project?
  • Finally, if you’re a company looking for expert developers for custom GNOME development, where should you go? What does the commercial ecosystem around the GNOME project look like?

We’ve been using tools like gitdm, cvsanaly and artichow to get some nice quantitative data on modules in GNOME git and freedesktop.org repositories. We will be running a survey of GNOME developers, and doing one-on-one interviews with key people in the GNOME commercial ecosystem to go beyond the figures and get some qualitative information about future plans and priorities as well.

So why take on the project?

Well, it seemed like fun. Answering interesting questions is always challenging and interesting. And it also seemed useful – if people are always asking for this information, there must be a reason they want to know, right?

Financially, this is an investment. I am paying Vanessa to help with the study, and it is taking a lot of my time. I initially looked for a sponsor for the project, but reaction was tepid, no-one wanted to bear the full cost of the report, but everyone I spoke to agreed that it would be useful and they would definitely like to have a copy when it got done. So I hit on the following idea for funding the project:

When the report is eventually available, I will be selling some copies to recoup costs. When I have sold a sufficient number to cover the cost of the project, I plan to release the report under a Creative Commons license. Those who are eager to get the results and information sooner rather than later will subsidise the availability of the report for everyone. I have submitted a proposal for GUADEC to present the conclusions of the report, and I anticipate that it will be available under a free licence by then.

Who’s the target audience?

ISVs are interested in knowing how active projects are before committing resources. The GNOME Census will help reduce the uncertainty when choosing GNOME as a platform. GNOME distributors will be able to leverage this report to show the vibrancy, size, activity and commercial ecosystem around the GNOME platform. For companies who have been long-time investors in GNOME’s success, the census will give them well-deserved recognition, especially in areas where that investment has not been very end-user visible, but has had a huge effect on the quality of the user experience. Finally, for companies building software platforms on top of GNOME, and for companies in the GNOME commercial ecosystem, this report will allow swift identification of service providers with a high credibility level through their involvement in GNOME and the core developers who are working for them.

So what now?

We will be launching a survey this week asking GNOME developers who they work for, and whether they have worked for other companies previously – because of the widespread use of gnome.org email addresses in GNOME, unfortunately it has not always been easy to identify companies behind the people. We also want qualitative information on projects you work on, whether you work on GNOME in your free time, and more. We are be breaking down GNOME development by core platform, external dependencies, GNOME desktop, GNOME hosted applications and other GNOME applications. Vanessa will be sending out a very short survey to everyone who has committed to GNOME, and we need your help to make the census as useful as possible to the GNOME project.

Thanks for your help!

9 Responses

  1. Luis Medinas Says:

    Wow this is an awesome project it’s really useful to show some people that are ton’s of developers that develop for GNOME simply for joy ;)

    Also it shows that lot’s of companies contribute to GNOME and show how big we are.

    Thanks for doing this…

  2. Sascha Peilicke Says:

    How about ohloh.net (http://www.ohloh.net/p/gnome) and cia.vc (http://cia.vc/stats/project/GNOME) ?

  3. Links 18/3/2010: Many IBM Headlines, Mandriva Enterprise Server 5.1 | Boycott Novell Says:

    [...] The GNOME Census project We will be launching a survey this week asking GNOME developers who they work for, and whether they have worked for other companies previously – because of the widespread use of gnome.org email addresses in GNOME, unfortunately it has not always been easy to identify companies behind the people. We also want qualitative information on projects you work on, whether you work on GNOME in your free time, and more. We are be breaking down GNOME development by core platform, external dependencies, GNOME desktop, GNOME hosted applications and other GNOME applications. Vanessa will be sending out a very short survey to everyone who has committed to GNOME, and we need your help to make the census as useful as possible to the GNOME project. [...]

  4. sankarshan Says:

    “ISVs are interested in knowing how active projects are before committing resources.” : isn’t there a process to track the trend of commits to the vcs to have a dipstick test of activity ?

    Something along the lines of EKG in fedorahosted …

  5. GNOME Census: ¿quién es quién? | MuyLinux Says:

    [...] el proyecto de uno de los desarrolladores del entorno de escritorio GNOME, que ha tenido la idea de tratar de crear una estudio que está centrado específicamente en empresas y desarrolladores que trabajan con esta solución o [...]

  6. Donnie Berkholz Says:

    Dave,

    I’ve got some hacked-together code that I used to make the graphs in — it’s at .

    Please let me know if you want to use it, as I can spend some time cleaning it up and making prettier graphs. I’ve learned a lot since I wrote it a few years ago.

  7. Donnie Berkholz Says:

    Bah, all my links got removed.

    Story w/ graphs: http://lwn.net/Articles/253875/

    Git repo: http://dev.gentoo.org/~dberkholz/dev_analysis.git/

  8. Donnie Berkholz Says:

    Other thoughts — have you considered quantitatively analyzing mailing-list traffic, IRC traffic, etc? You could do some cool things by looking at who’s posting, when post frequency changes, word clouds over time, etc.

    How about website traffic? Get some web logs and start correlating them with the developer community.

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