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Open Source Community: Projects Wither Without Successful Maintainers

By Dick Weisinger

What makes a successful Open Source project? The software? The Community? Yes. But long term success is really only possible because of the maintainers and founders who lead and guide the project. Without them the software would never have existed nor would there be a path for the software to grow. Ultimately, without maintainers, the community would scatter.

It is the leadership skills of those individuals who not only contribute but successful grow and create the vision of the project. Mozilla offers a class for Open Source maintainers to teach personal leadership, foundational skills and collaborative habits.

Tobie Langel, open source strategy consultant, said that “In an ecosystem with infinite sources, the eye must be on the individuals caring for and sustaining that useful resource, as a result of that is the place the bottleneck is.”

Maintainers who are demotivated in a project and lose interest will leave. Matt Asay, Open Source executive at AWS, wrote that “I’ve interviewed a number of maintainers for popular open source projects. In every case, they talked about how they contribute because it’s fun, but also acknowledged that some aspects of open source development can make it decidedly “un-fun” (e.g., demanding users who complain about missing features or existing bugs but don’t contribute code or fixes).”

Matthew Rocklin, founder at Coiled COmputing, summarized the role of the maintainer: “maintaining a project is not about being a great developer or a clever reviewer. It’s about enabling others, removing road-blocks before they arise, and identifying and resolving difficult social situations. It has much more to do with logistics, coordination, and social behaviors than it has to do with algorithms and version control.”

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