preparing for the post-sourceforge world

People have asked the question “What if SourceForge disappeared?�? for years now, but I have to wonder if we should be asking this question again. Now, SourceForge has its warts, but it’s ultimately a beneficial service. And, even if they did disappear, it’s highly unlikely that the open source movement would be handicapped for any real length of time.

But here’s why I ask the question:

phil goes into some more detail, wondering whether GOOG or YHOO might be prepared to take over. Maybe the woes of sourceforge can bring some long-needed fresh air though:

I think that the problem with SourceForge is that they are providing 1999-era functionality based on a business model that really is not much more than an afterthought after the collapse of their hardware business. Consequently, the core functionality in the SourceForge project hasn’t changed all that much in the past six years. All the projects on SourceForge are effectively partitioned… we don’t see any tools for figuring out code reuse possibilities or anything particularly innovative.

3 years ago, i researched the state of the art of open source production, and developed a matrix to map activities, actors and tools. To say that there are many areas of improvement in the way open source software is produced is an understatement. The obvious observation that there are a power laws in effect with regards to quality and popularity of a project makes me wonder what can be done to improve life for the countless small projects out there that have neither their act together code-wise, nor any audience. A recent study found that 81% of sourceforge projects are inactive, and only about 0.05% innovative.

A considerable subset of these projects deserves to do better on both fronts with the right tooling. Done correctly, a post-sourceforge integrated site could act as a large-scale lab for novel collaboration and software engineering techniques. Tool vendors might be willing to integrate their technology in return for widespread usage and name recognition, and the rest of us might finally break free of the anachronisms of mailing lists and other 1980s-era solutions.

Furthermore, the site could be made to emit statistical data for open source research. Most academic papers in the field already look at sourceforge anyway, if they had a way to get better data, they might actually arrive at some useful conclusions, including reuse patterns, social network analysis, and many more. Such a site could therefore be a down payment on discovering the finer points of peer production, slated to become ever more important in the larger economy.

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