Measuring Community Growth

The discussion held a few weeks ago at Community Leadership Summit around how to ‘measure’ open source projects were very interesting. There was even a keynote by David Eaves during OSCON about the topic (well worth 15 minutes of your time, watch it below).

There are many people comparing different open source projects, I keep seeing blog posts trying to extrapolate complex concepts from too simple facts. For example, it’s hard to evaluate if an open source project is growing just by looking at the total number of commits per week: when number of commits slow down it may mean that the codebase has reached maturity, not necessarily it’s a sign of diminishing interest. Other simple facts visible on github like the number of followers, forks or ‘watchers’ may not mean much if the developers of that project don’t use the ‘social’ features offered by github.

To measure the “growth” of a project I usually look at a whole bunch of numbers and trends (more importantly) like the total number of committers over time, total new committers over time and also things that are not code-related traffic on mailing lists/forums, websites, google searches, activity on bug trackers as indicators of growth of a community. The total number of commits is more meaningful when taken as one element of ‘livelihood’ of a project (is it still maintained?) but it needs to be integrated with other elements to avoid making mistakes.

All the people interested in measuring open source communities should join the Metrics Working Group at The Open Source Way and push the conversation forward.