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Posted by: Dave Ryman
For Open Access Week, we have a post from Charles Schweik, author of Internet Success: A Study of Open-Source Software Commons.

In 2006, my colleague Robert English and I started the research that is reported in our book Internet Success: A Study of Open Source Software Commons (MIT Press, 2012). We wanted to systematically study how computer programmers—the people who have had the most experience working together under an open access model—actually collaborate. Using a database of more than 170,000 open source software projects, we researched this question both quantitatively and qualitatively. We reported findings related to team size, project leadership, developer motivations, project governance, and implications for moving toward a more general theory of Internet-based collective action.

In honor of Open Access week, we’ll report one finding that has real relevance to this year’s theme: “Redefining Impact.” In our research, we discovered that the majority of successful open source software projects—the ones that produced useful software with continued collaboration over time—are comprised of very small development teams (one to three people ) and not the very large teams that are often expected. We also found that the successful collaborations tended to gain an additional developer compared to the ones that became abandoned. Moreover, we discovered that more than half of the time, these ongoing collaborative projects gained a developer who lived and worked not in geographically proximate areas but rather on a different continent. Successful open source software collaboration is not necessarily about building large teams but rather locating some collaborator somewhere in the world who shares the passions, talents and often the same needs as the developer or developers who started the project.

This finding has important implications related to the “Redefining Impact” theme of Open Access week of 2013 because it reminds us that open access to information is not necessarily about reaching large numbers of people, as many people might assume. Rather, open access is about the “intellectual matchmaking” that can occur over the Internet that connects two, three or four people in the world with similar interests, passions and desires to work on some common problem. Viewed from this angle, Open Access is about leveraging and connecting small pockets of global expertise and harnessing this expertise toward collaborative problem solving that crosses organizational or political boundaries and scales to the globe.

Here’s a link to some of the material found in Internet Success.