Models of FOSS Collaboration

In these notes we exam different models of collaboration in open source projects.

We are particularly interested in how the content that is shared -- be it encyclopedia knowledge (Wikipedia) or source code (Linux) -- is controlled.

There are many different models possible, ranging from very democratic models (Wikipedia) to what are called benevolent dictatorships (Linux) and many forms of hybrid models in between (Drupal, Sahana).

Wikipedia: Direct Democracy

  • Anonymous users can edit Wikipedia entries.
  • Neutral point-of-view and good faith guide user's contributions.
  • Jimmy Wales, as a kind of constitutional monarch, has final say.
  • Bureaucrats, stewards, developers, administrators have responsibilities (rather than rights) and help manage the site.
  • Wales and the Wikipedia board of directors have authority to mediate editorial disputes, remove abusive and uncooperative users.
  • See: Joseph Reagle, In Good Faith (Ph.D. dissertation)

Linux: Benevolent Dictatorship

  • Only trusted users can contribute code directly to the Linux codebase.
  • Traditional Software Development: a) Plan, b) Analyze, c) Design, d) Implement.
  • FOSS Development: a) Code; b) Review; c) Pre-commit test; d) Development release; e) Parallel debugging; f) Production release.
  • Originally, only Linus Torvald, the project's founder, had authority to commit code to the main Linux repository.