Essential to the health of an open-source project is that the project have sufficient momentum to be able to evolve and respond to new challenges. Nothing is static in the software world, and each major component requires maintenance and new enhancements continually. One of the big selling points of this model is that it cuts down on the amount of development any single party must do, so for that theory to become fact, you need other active developers.
In the process of determining demand for your project, you probably ran into a set of other companies and individuals with enough interest here to form a core set of developers. Once you've decided on a strategy, shop it to this core set even more heavily; perhaps start a simple discussion mailing list for this purpose, with nothing set in stone. Chances are this group will have some significant ideas for how to make this a successful project, and list their own set of resources they could apply to make it happen.
For the simplest of projects, a commitment from this group that they'll give your product a try and if they're happy stay on the development mailing list is probably enough. However, for something more significant, you should try and size up just how big the total resource base is.
Here is what I would consider a minimum resource set for a project of moderate complexity, say a project to build a common shopping cart plug-in for a web server, or a new type of network daemon implementing a simple protocol. In the process I'll describe the various roles needed and the types of skills necessary to fill them.
- Role 1: Infrastructure support: Someone to set up and maintain the mailing list aliases, the web server, the CVS (Concurrent Versioning System) code server, the bug database, etc.
Startup: 100 hours
Maintenance: 20 hrs/week.
- Role 2: Code ``captain'': Someone who watches all commits and has overall responsibility for the quality of the implemented code. Integrates patches contributed by third parties, fixing any bugs or incompatibilities in these contributions. This is outside of whatever new development work they are also responsible for.
Startup: 40-200 hours (depends on how long it takes to clean up the code for public consumption!)
Maintenance: 20 hrs/week
- Role 3: Bug database maintenance: While this is not free ``support,'' it is important that the public have an organized way of communicating bug reports and issues to the server developers. In a free setting, the developers are of course not even obliged to answer all mail they get, but they should make reasonable efforts to respond to valid issues. The bug database maintainer would be the first line of support, someone who goes through the submissions on a regular basis and weeds out the simple questions, tosses the clueless ones, and forwards the real issues on to the developers.
Startup: just enough to learn their way around the code
Maintenance: 10-15 hrs/week
- Role 4: Documentation/web site content maintenance: This position is often left unattended in open-source projects and left to the engineers or to people who really want to contribute but aren't star programmers; all too often it's simply left undone. So long as we're going about this process deliberately, locating dedicated resources to make sure that non-technical people can understand and appreciate the tools they are deploying is essential to widespread usage. It helps cut down on having to answer bug reports which are really just misunderstandings, and it also helps encourage new people to learn their way around the code and become future contributors. A document that describes at a high level the internal architecture of the software is essential; documentation that explains major procedures or classes within the code is almost as important.
Startup: 60 hours (presuming little code has been documented)
Maintenance: 10 hrs/week
- Role 5: Cheerleader/zealot/evangelist/strategist: Someone who can work to build momentum for the project by finding other developers, push specific potential customers to give it a try, find other companies who could be candidates for adopting this new platform, etc. Not quite a marketer or salesperson, as they need to stay close to the technology; but the ability to clearly see the role of the project in a larger perspective is essential.
Startup: enough to learn the project
Maintenance: 20 hrs/week
So here we have five roles representing almost three full-time people. In reality, some of these roles get handled by groups of people sharing responsibility, and some projects can survive with the average core participant spending less than 5 hrs/week after the first set of release humps are passed. But for the early days of the project it is essential that developers have the time and focus they would if the project were a regular development effort at the company.
These five roles also do not cover any resources that could be put towards new development; this is purely maintenance. In the end, if you can not find enough resources from peers and partners to cover these bases and enough extra developers to do some basic new development (until new recruits are attracted), you may want to reconsider open-sourcing your project.
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Open Resources (www.openresources.com) Last updated: 1999-08-06