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Build Your Own Contributors, One Part At A Time

Dreamwidth Studios, a code fork of the LiveJournal open source blogging software, averages 50 commits a week from over 65 unique contributors. Over half of those contributors have either never programmed in Perl or never contributed to an Open Source project before, and roughly 75% of those contributors are women.

Mark Smith and Denise Paolucci, owners of Dreamwidth Studios, discuss the tactics they've used to make their project successful, and how other projects can implement the same.

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Build Your Own Contributors, One Part At A Time

  1. 1. Mark Smith & Denise Paolucci Dreamwidth Studios Build Your Own Contributors, One Part At A Time Licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 CC-BY-SA
  2. 2. Dreamwidth Studios: <ul><li>Founded in 2008 </li></ul><ul><li>Code fork of </li></ul><ul><li>65+ contributors </li></ul><ul><li>40-50 commits per week </li></ul><ul><li>75% female </li></ul><ul><li>60% beginners to Perl or to programming </li></ul><ul><li>100% dedicated to the project </li></ul>
  3. 3. Define “Success”: <ul><li>Lines of code? </li></ul><ul><li>Number of commits? </li></ul><ul><li>Frequency of releases? </li></ul><ul><li>Longevity of project? </li></ul><ul><li>Commercial applications? </li></ul>
  4. 4. Define “Success”: <ul><li>Lines of code? </li></ul><ul><li>Number of commits? </li></ul><ul><li>Frequency of releases? </li></ul><ul><li>Longevity of project? </li></ul><ul><li>Commercial applications? </li></ul>
  5. 5. People. <ul><li>People. </li></ul><ul><li><blink>PEOPLE.</blink> </li></ul>
  6. 6. People. <ul><li>People. </li></ul><ul><li><span style=‘text-decoration: blink’>PEOPLE.</span> </li></ul>
  7. 7. Five things that drive newcomers away: <ul><li>Unnecessary barriers to entry </li></ul><ul><li>No clear expectations </li></ul><ul><li>Glacial processes </li></ul><ul><li>Development hierarchy (real or perceived) </li></ul><ul><li>No respect for your developers </li></ul>
  8. 8. In their own words: <ul><li>&quot;I have tried getting into other projects, but found the entrance very difficult - and not only do I code almost every day, but I am the kind of person that attends hacker conferences. If I find it hard to find information on how to claim bugs, submit patches, and what programming style the project prefers, I shudder to think what programming beginners must think.&quot; </li></ul>
  9. 9. Lower the barriers to entry: <ul><li>Document your coding styles & conventions </li></ul><ul><li>If you have to explain something more than twice, your documentation needs fixing </li></ul><ul><li>Log bugs for everything, no matter how small </li></ul><ul><li>Keep a prominent public changelog </li></ul><ul><li>Provide hosted developer environments </li></ul><ul><li>Have clearly defined channels for coding help </li></ul><ul><li>Put your project through the “typo test” </li></ul>
  10. 10. In their own words: <ul><li>“ I think my favorite aspect of the Dreamwidth project culture is that every contribution is welcomed, even if it’s incomplete or flawed. There is a sense that we want to help developers improve instead of rejecting them for not meeting some sort of standard of quality.” </li></ul>
  11. 11. Set clear expectations: <ul><li>Document, document, document </li></ul><ul><li>Uphold a “Code of Conduct” or Diversity Statement ( </li></ul><ul><li>Give people goals to work towards </li></ul><ul><li>Create a culture where teaching is expected </li></ul><ul><li>Foster a sense of social reward for collaboration, not competition </li></ul>
  12. 12. In their own words: <ul><li>&quot;I'm also enjoying the aspect of contributing to something I use and care about; I wrote a patch! It's live on Dreamwidth now, I can go and see what I did, if I want.&quot; </li></ul>
  13. 13. Keep it moving: <ul><li>People have short attention spans. Really. </li></ul><ul><li>Work in steps and iterate: break tasks down </li></ul><ul><li>Manage your review queue: don’t let patches rot, even if this means you get less coding time </li></ul><ul><li>Shut down bikeshed arguments quickly </li></ul><ul><li>Be as available as you possibly can </li></ul>
  14. 14. In their own words: <ul><li>“ I like that everybody cooperates and that it's really supportive, and that if you have a crisis of feeling like you're fucking everything up for a day, or that you've had a really crappy day and everything you've done has exploded, or what have you, you won't be laughed at.” </li></ul>
  15. 15. “Teambuilding” is not a dirty word: <ul><li>Everyone is allowed to make mistakes </li></ul><ul><li>Bug tickets are not flaws; they are chances to improve your product </li></ul><ul><li>Keep process open: no mysterious inner circle </li></ul><ul><li>“ Code ownership” is dangerous! </li></ul><ul><li>Don’t value ‘big’ patches over little ones; place equal values on feature development, cleanup, refactoring, documentation, training </li></ul>
  16. 16. In their own words: <ul><li>“ I recall one moment in IRC when someone submitted a patch to a much-wanted bug, there was massive cheering, and the dev said wistfully that this was why he was wanting to submit patches here and not at the day job, because while the day job paid, it did not provide a cheering squad, much less a genuinely enthusiastic one.” </li></ul>
  17. 17. Which brings us to … <ul><li>THE single, solitary, individual, exclusive, lone, uttermost, paramount, most important thing to do and have if you want to build your own contributors… </li></ul>
  18. 18. R-E-S-P-E-C-T: <ul><li>People thrive on being in the loop </li></ul><ul><li>Never reject a patch without explaining </li></ul><ul><li>Never reject only for style reasons </li></ul><ul><li>Fire toxic people and moderate social channels </li></ul><ul><li>Never say no without a reason & an alternative </li></ul><ul><li>Keep asking yourself: “Is this answer bullshit?” </li></ul>
  19. 19. In their own words: <ul><li>“ I think I've found a new home. S'kinda cool.” </li></ul>
  20. 20. Three things to start right now: <ul><li>Freshman orientation: appoint a “welcomer” and laud newcomers’ first contributions </li></ul><ul><li>Ping? Pong! Stop timing out on communication when people need responses from you </li></ul><ul><li>Problem Child: Have words with “that person” and let them know their behavior is not okay </li></ul>
  21. 21. For more information: <ul><li> (Code: LCA2010) </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul><ul><li>Denise Paolucci <> </li></ul><ul><li>Mark Smith <> </li></ul>