The rise and fall of a central contributor: Dynamics of social organization and performance in the Gentoo community

Authors: Marcelo Serrano Zanetti, Ingo Scholtes, Claudio Juan Tessone and Frank Schweitzer

CHASE/ICSE '13 Proceedings of the 6th International Workshop on Cooperative and Human Aspects of Software Engineering (2013)


Social organization and division of labor crucially influence the performance of collaborative software engineering efforts. In this paper, we provide a quantitative analysis of the relation between social organization and performance in Gentoo, an Open Source community developing a Linux distribution. We study the structure and dynamics of collaborations as recorded in the project's bug tracking system over a period of ten years. We identify a period of increasing centralization after which most interactions in the community were mediated by a single central contributor. In this period of maximum centralization, the central contributor unexpectedly left the project, thus posing a significant challenge for the community. We quantify how the rise, the activity as well as the subsequent sudden dropout of this central contributor affected both the social organization and the bug handling performance of the Gentoo community. We analyze social organization from the perspective of network theory and augment our quantitative findings by interviews with prominent members of the Gentoo community which shared their personal insights.