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Understanding Continuous Design in F/OSS Projects



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Understanding Continuous Design in F OSS Projects Les Gasser1 2 gasser uiuc edu Walt Scacchi2 wscacchi ics uci edu Gabriel Ripoche1 3 gripoche uiuc edu Bryan Penne1 bpenne uiuc edu 1 Graduate School of Library and Information Science University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign 501 E Daniel St Champaign IL 61820 USA Phone 1 217 265 5021 Fax 1 217 244 3302 2 Institute for Software Research University of California at Irvine ICS2 242 UCI Irvine CA 92697 3425 Phone 1 949 824 4130 Fax 1 949 824 1715 3 LIMSI CNRS Universit Paris XI BP 133 91403 Orsay Cedex France Phone 33 1 69 85 81 01 Fax 33 1 69 85 80 88 Abstract Open Source Software OSS is in regular widespread use supporting critical applications and infrastructure including the Internet and World Wide Web themselves The communities of OSS users and developers are often interwoven The deep engagement of users and developers coupled with the openness of systems lead to community based system design and re design activities that are continuous Continuous redesign is facilitated by communication and knowledgesharing infrastructures such as persistent chat rooms newsgroups issuereporting tracking repositories sharable design representations and many kinds of software informalisms These tools are arenas for managing the extensive varied multimedia community knowledge that forms the foundation and the substance of system requirements Active community based design processes and knowledge repositories create new ways of learning about representing and defining systems that challenge current models of representation and design This paper presents several aspects of our research into continuous open community based design practices We discuss several new insights into how communities represent knowledge and capture requirements that derive from our qualitative empirical studies of large ca 2GB repositories of problem report data primarily from the Mozilla project Keywords Continuous design Open source software Knowledge management Knowledge representation Community knowledge Specification 1 6 1 Introduction In current research we are studying software maintenance work bug reporting and repair in Free Open Source Software F OSS communities giving special attention to factors such as knowledge exchange effectiveness of tool support social network structures and organization of project activity More specifically we are examining how these factors affect such outcome variables as the time taken to resolve reported problems the ability to detect interdependent and duplicate problems the effective scope of repairs the degree to which the community can address the entire range of software problems that appear rather than just selected subsets and the general quality of software Answering these questions is important to a number of scientific government or industrial communities U S science agencies continue to make substantial multi million dollar per year investments in complex software systems supporting research in natural and physical sciences e g Bioinformatics National Virtual Observatory via computational science test beds e g Tera Grid CyberInfrastructure which software is intended as free open source 13 10 E Government initiatives around the world are increasingly advocating or mandating the use of F OSS in their system design and development efforts 5 8 Also industrial firms in the U S that develop complex software systems for internal applications or external products are under economic pressure to improve their software productivity and quality while reducing their costs F OSS is increasingly cited as one of the most promising and most widely demonstrated approach to the reuse of software 4 in ways that can make the design and development of complex software faster better and cheaper 22 However in each of these cases there is no existing framework or guideline for how to design manage or evaluate F OSS software systems and processes Moreover we don t have a clear picture of how these consumers might best expend their scarce resources for continuous system design and redesign 16 or how they might redesign their own processes to assess and take advantage of F OSS technologies 15 Our research process is based on qualitative and computational analysis of large corpuses of longitudinal data from Web sites public repositories online discussion forums and online artifacts from F OSS development projects Projects analyzed include networked computer games Internet Web infrastructure X ray astronomy deep space imaging and academic software research We have access to a number of large collections of current data from these projects comprising at least six repositories of problem report analysis activity with a total of over 500 000 reports containing approximately 5 million individual comments and involving over 60 000 reporters and developers We are using both human based grounded theory and computational methods such as automated concept extraction data and text mining process modeling to empirically discover identify and comparatively analyze patterns of continuous software design in the projects under study 14 More specifically we are looking for design episodes basic design processes such as collective sense making negotiation information seeking and conflict management design management activities and design support design management infrastructure For example we are using statistical text analysis tools to automatically extract episodes of design activity when traces of those activities can be characterized with specific language models We are also developing ways of automatically extracting and coding change data from large corpuses to mechanically develop explicit generalized process models of design processes and link specific steps or paths in these process models back to the underlying data from which they are derived 2 Continuous Design in F OSS In doing this research we have begun to find that the work represented in these repositories goes far beyond software repair and maintenance bug fixing Concepts such as bug and repair connote some deviation from an accepted standard of function or behavior and restoration of performance to that standard However it seems that much of the work we see in our data involves continuous distributed collective software specification and design 7 instead of bug fixing We are seeing some clear trends that run somewhat contrary to conventional wisdom and normative software development practice for large


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