Thoughts on crowdsourcing development

Note: This is an old post in a blog with a lot of posts. The world has changed, technologies have changed, and I've changed. It's likely this is out of date and not representative. Let me know if you think this is something that needs updating.

Today I read You can't crowdsource software. The title sums up what it's about.

I've had this experience with Miro. We occassionally get patches from non-PCF people but most of the work is done by PCF. We've spent a lot of time and effort over the last few years on getting more code contributors and reducing the barriers to entry. We haven't had much success.

However, there's a lot of other "stuff" that goes into developing an application and the article only focuses on code. Some of this "stuff" can be successfully crowdsourced without a lot of effort. For example, Miro crowdsources all of our strings translation work through Launchpad.

I work on another project called PyBlosxom. We have a core group of developers (right now this is me) who do the bulk of the core code work. I do some plugin work, but the bulk of the plugin work is done by users of PyBlosxom many of whom have never touched the core code. For PyBlosxom, plugin development is crowdsourced.

The article suggests that it's a waste of time to help bring new contributors come up to speed and contribute because they often don't contribute much. That conclusion really concerns me. How can we get more people helping out if we're not working on getting people to help out?

Jono Bacon wrote an article titled Project Awesome Opportunity which talks about a few projects that are reducing the barriers to contributing and making it a lot easier. It's very Launchpad-centric, though.

OpenHatch is a startup working on building the next generation of contributors and connecting contributors to projects that need help. They're wrestling with how to effectively fix these problems, but without tying the fix to a project development silo (e.g. Launchpad, GitHub, ...). I think that's really important.

I think systems like these will reduce the effort in getting contributors and make it easier to crowdsource code contribution.

And if you, dear reader, are looking for a project to help out on that's written in Python and need someone to mentor you, let me know.


February 5th, 2010: I should clarify I think the article is fine. I don't think the conclusion that code contribution doesn't crowdsource well is poorly formed or anything like that. Just that the implications aren't great.

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