Uncovering the Periphery: A Qualitative Survey of Episodic Volunteering in Free/Libre and Open Source Software Communities

Abstract: Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) communities are composed, in part, of volunteers, many of whom contribute infrequently. However, these infrequent volunteers contribute to the sustainability of FLOSS projects, and should ideally be encouraged to continue participating, even if they cannot be persuaded to contribute regularly. Infrequent contributions are part of a trend which has been widely observed in other sectors of volunteering, where it has been termed “episodic volunteering” (EV). Previous FLOSS research has focused on the Onion model, differentiating core and peripheral developers, with the latter considered as a homogeneous group. We argue this is too simplistic, given the size of the periphery group and the myriad of valuable activities they perform beyond coding. Our
exploratory qualitative survey of 13 FLOSS communities investigated what episodic volunteering looks like in a FLOSS context. EV is widespread in FLOSS communities, although not specifically managed. We suggest several recommendations for managing EV based on a framework drawn from the volunteering literature. Also, episodic volunteers make a wide range of value-added contributions other than code, and they should neither be expected nor coerced into becoming habitual volunteers.

Keywords: Community management, episodic volunteering, free software, open source software, peripheral developer, volunteer management

Reference: Ann Barcomb, Andreas Kaufmann, Dirk Riehle, Klaas-Jan Stol, and Brian Fitzgerald. “Uncovering the Periphery: A Qualitative Survey of Episodic Volunteering in Free/Libre and Open Source Software Communities.” Transactions on Software Engineering. To appear.

The paper can be downloaded as a PDF file.

Leave a Reply