Success and Abandonment of Open Source Projects

The Open Source/Content Commons As A New Paradigm For Collaborative Scientific Research: A Research And Teaching Agenda
PI: Charles Schweik
Awarded: February 2005; 5 year project


Our Research

"Free/Libre and open source (FOSS) software projects are Internet-based 'commons' involving a virtual team of programmers who collectively produce and maintain software. But the FOSS collaborative model can be applied to other contend beyond software, and can provide a new paradigm for collaboration on scientific problems. Our research seeks to identify factors that lead to success and abandonment of FOSS commons and to understand how these factors relate to more generic, open content (OC) projects."

Our Forthcoming Book: "The Success and Abandonment of Open Source Commons"
by Charles M. Schweik with Robert English 
additional contributions made by Sandra Haire, Meelis Kitsing, Meng-Shiou Shieh

In recent years there has been tremendous interest in the use of the Internet to support collaboration. Open source software projects, arguably, have one of the longest track records in this area. The book we are currently writing, tentatively entitled "The Collaborative Principles of Open Source Commons," addresses a key question: What factors lead some open source software projects (a form of commons) to sustain successful collective action while others become abandoned? The primary goal of the book is to investigate empirically this question, and to provide insight to future creators of open source projects or other “open content” type collaborations about factors they should be aware of in order to maximize their chances of success.

A Note of Thanks to Survey Participants 

We would like to say thanks to all page visitors who participated in our online survey of open source developers who are affiliated with This survey was active from (roughly) September through November 2009. We received over 2000 responses and are working on the data analysis of these responses now.

We also want to apologize to any survey respondent who may have taken down the Think Geek discount code at the end of the survey, and waited before using it. The discount code went viral on the net and in late November the people asked us to shut down the code, because it was being abused by people who had not taken our survey. *And as promised as a small token of our appreciation, we randomly selected four respondents to the survey and awarded them $50 gift certificates to for their participation. Again, thanks to all who participated and we are sorry we are not able to give everyone such a gift certificate!*

Book manuscript outline (8/10/2009 version with links to our data!) 

We are pleased to provide sample chapters of our book below. We anticipate that the full book will come out in late 2010. Comments/reactions to this material are welcome and appreciated. Please send them to If you use or would like to cite this material, please email for permission  


Chapter 1: Why Understanding Open Source Commons is Important


Chapter 2. The Open Source Development Ecosystem  [PDF]
Chapter 3: The Open Source Developer 
Chapter 4: The Physical and Community Attributes of Open Source Commons 
Chapter 5: The Institutional Attributes of Open Source Commons


Introduction to Part III
Chapter 6. The Dependent Variable: Defining Open Source “Success” and “Abandonment” using Data [PDF][Classification Data txt file]
Chapter 7: Independent Variables and an Overview of Classification Tree Analysis 
Chapter 8: Successful and Abandoned Projects in the Initiation Stage [PDF]
Chapter 9: Successful and Abandoned Projects in the Growth Stage
Part III Conclusion: What We Have Learned from our Analysis of Data Residing in


Introduction to Part IV
Chapter 10: A Deeper Investigation into Open Source Institutions – The OSGeo Case
Chapter 11. Our Survey on Open Source Success and Abandonment: Goals and Implementation Methodology
Chapter 12. Successful and Abandoned Projects in the Initiation Stage with Survey Data
Chapter 13. Successful and Abandoned Projects in the Growth Stage using Survey Data
Part IV Conclusion: What We Have Learned from our Survey, Coupled with SF Data


Chapter 14. Lessons Learned, Conclusions, Reflections, Limitations and Future Work

Our Publications

Refereed Publications:

Charles M. Schweik, Robert English, and Sandra Haire. 2009. "Factors Leading to Success or Abandonment of Open Source Commons: An Empirical Analysis of Projects" South African Computer Journal 43: 58-65. Available at

English, R. and Schweik, C.M. 2007. "Identifying Success and Abandonment of Free/Libre and Open Source (FLOSS) Commons: A Preliminary Classification of projects." Upgrade: The European Journal for the Informatics Professional. Vol. VIII, Issue no. 6 (December).   Available at

Schweik, C.M. and English, R. 2007. "Conceptualizing the Institutional Designs of Free/Libre and Open Source Software Projects." First Monday 12(2). Available at

Schweik, C.M. 2005. "An Institutional Analysis Approach to Studying Libre Software 'Commons'". Upgrade: The European Journal for the Informatics Professional. June. pp 17-27. Available at (Spanish version available at

Schweik, C., T. Evans and J. Grove. 2005. "Open Source and Open Content: a Framework for Global Collaboration in Social-Ecological Research." Ecology and Society 10 (1): 33. 25 pp.

Refereed Book Chapters, Proceedings and Reports:

Schweik,C., English R., Kitsing, M. and Haire, S. 2008. "Brooks' versus Linus' Law: An Empirical Test of Open Source Projects" in Soon Ae Chun, Marijn Janssen and Ramon Gil-Garcia (eds.) The Proceedings 9th International Digital Government Research Conference, Montreal, Canada, May 18-21, pp. 423-424. Available at

English, R. and Schweik, C.M. 2007. "Identifying Success and Tragedy of Free/Libre and Open Source (FLOSS) Commons: A Preliminary Classification of projects." Proceedings of the First International Workshop on Emerging Trends in FLOSS Research and Development (FLOSS'07:ICSE Workshops 2007), 20-26 May, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Available at

Schweik, C. 2007. "Free / Open Source Software as a Framework for Scientific Collaboration" In Hess, Charlotte, and Elinor Ostrom, eds. Understanding Knowledge as a Commons: From Theory to Practice. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Presentations and Working Papers:

2009 -- Schweik, Charles M. 2009. "The Open Source Software Ecosystem NCDG Working Paper #09-002. Available at 

2008 -- Schweik, C.M., English, R. and Haire, S. 2008. "Factors Leading to Success or Abandonment of Open Source Commons: An Empirical Analysis of Projects." Paper presented in the Academic Paper track of the 2008 Free and Open Source for Geospatial Conference, Cape Town, South Africa. September 29 October 4, 2008. Abstract available at

2008 -- "Open Source Software Collaboration: Foundational Concepts and an Empirical Analysis." Minnowbrook III Phase II Conference: The Future of Public Administration, Public Management and Public Service Around the World. Lake Placid NY. Sept 5-7. Paper available at

2007 -- "Examining the Structure of Internet-based Open Source Software Collaborations." Paper presented in a panel on IT-enabled Collaboration for Research, Innovation, and Management at the American Society of Public Administration conference, March 25, 2007, Washington D.C.

2006 -- "Uncovering Design Principles of Open Source Collaborations: Implications for Government Agencies" Paper presented in a panel on Information Technology, Collaboration and Service Delivery, Association for Public Policy and Management Conference, Madison, WI. Nov 3rd. (Paper presented by Jane Fountain)

2006 -- Schweik, C.M. "Towards an 'Open Source Commons' in Environmental Management and Policy." Invited presentation at the United Nations University's International Institute of Software Technology. Macau, China. Oct 9th.

2006 -- Schweik, C.M. and Semenov, A. "The Design and Functionality of the Open Research System (Version 3.0)" at the Baltimore Ecosystem Study Quarterly Science Meeting on "Sensors, Sensor Networks, and Cyberinfrastructure". University of Maryland, Baltimore Campus.

2006 -- Schweik, C.M. "Public-sector decision-making and the potential of open source and open content collaboration in eco-informatics". 7th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research (DG.O 2006). San Diego, CA. May 21-24th.

2006 -- Schweik, C.M. "Uncovering the collaborative principles of Free/Libre and Open Source Software." Center for Public Policy and Administration, Umass Amherst. March 3rd, 2006


Relevant Refereed Publications Written Prior to the Grant:

Schweik, C.M. and Semenov, A. 2003. "The Institutional Design of 'Open Source' Programming: Implications for Addressing Complex Public Policy and Management Problems." First Monday 8(1) 33 pp.

Schweik, C. and J. Morgan Grove. 2002. "Fostering Open-Source Research Via a World Wide Web System," Public Administration and Management: An Interactive Journal, 5(3). pp. 18.


Relevant Presentations and Working Papers Prior to the Grant:

2004 -- Schweik, C., Evans, T.P. and Grove, J.M. 2004. "Open Source and Open Content: A Framework for the Development of Land Use Change Models." Paper presented at the Integrated Assessment of the Land System: The Future of Land Use workshop. October 28-30, 2004. Amsterdam.

2004 -- Schweik, C.M., Evans, T.P. and Grove, J. M. "Open Source Programming as a Framework for Scientific Collaboration: An Example in the Context of Land-use Change Modeling." Paper presented at the (invited only) Workshop on Scholarly Communication as an Information Commons. Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University. March 31-April 2. Available at:

2003 -- Schweik, C.M., Grove, J.M. and Evans, T.P. "An Open Content Framework for the Production of Landcover Change Models." Presentation at the 2003 Open Meeting of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Research Community, Montreal, CA. October 16.

2003 -- Schweik, C.M., Stepanov, A. and Grove, J.M. "The Open Research System: A Web-Based Metadata and Data Repository for Collaborative Research." Presented at the Information Interoperability and Organization for National and Global Forest Information Systems. Quebec City, Quebec, CA. Sept 17.

2003 -- An Open Research System For Collaboration and Synthesis in Long Term Ecological Research." J. Morgan Grove, Charles M. Schweik and Jonathan Walsh. Presented at the NSF Long Term Ecological Research All Scientists meeting in a workshop entitled "Information Technology for the Decade of Synthesis: LTER Partners and Projects - Leveraging Resources and Metadata to Meet a Common Goal" in Seattle, WA on 9/22/03. Presentation made by Walsh.

2003 -- Schweik, C.M., Grove, J.M., Evans, T.P. and Pontius, G. "An Open Source Framework for Landuse Modeling: Kernels and Constituents." Presentation at European-American Workshop on Long Term Socio-Environmental Research in Lyons, France, June 29th - July 6th, 2003. (Grove presented).


Schweik, C.M., Grove, J.M. and Evans, T.P. "The Open Source Paradigm and the Production of Scientific Research." Presentation at the International Symposium on Open Access and Public Domain in Digital Data and Information for Science, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Paris France. March 11, 2003.

2002 -- "The Institutional Design of ''Open Source'' Programming: Implications for Addressing Complex Problems in Pubic Policy and Management. Twenty-Fourth Annual APPAM Research Conference, November 7-9, 2002 Dallas, TX

Teaching GIS

"The primary goal of our teaching agenda is to expose students to OS software and participation in open source and open content projects. To accomplish this, we have taught undergraduate and graduate level geographic information systems (GIS) courses based on open source GIS software (both in the classroom at the University of Massachusetts and online)"

One significant contribution in this effort has been to develop a set of (Creative Commons Licensed) teaching material on that can be accessed at the Open Source Geospatial Foundation wiki. We are now in the process of updating much of that material for QGIS version .11. Versions of this material have been used to teach the following courses:

In the classroom...

NRC297S - Introduction to Spatial Technologies, Department of Natural Resources Conservation

  • Spring 2005,
  • Spring 2006,
  • Spring 2007,
  • Spring 2009,
  • Spring 2010

And online...

  • Students from several different countries, including Nigeria, Uganda, Brazil, and the United States participated in our online course. We used Moodle for the course delivery system.

"A second element of our teaching effort is to learn from and study, in a 'real' situation, how to develop and participate in an open content collaboration."

To that end, PI Schweik has been leading an international effort to develop open content educational material in open source GIS as part of the Open Geospatial Foundation's educational initiative (see We have worked to mobilize a globally distributed group of GIS educators to build this open content collaborative effort. As of October 2008, we have inventoried over 45 different sets of open source educational material (listed at

We have also:

  • Investigated potential format standards for educational material (e.g., Apache Docbook, Open Office Writer, etc.) 
  • Implemented a content management system (Subversion) to support the management of educational content "source" and new derivatives. This system resides at


Our Teaching Related Publications

Refereed Publications:

Schweik, C. M., Fernandez, M., Hamel, M.P., Kashwan, P., Lewis, Q., Stepanov, A. "Reflections of an Online Geographic Information Systems Course Based on Open Source Software." Forthcoming. Social Science Computer Review.

Presentations and Working Papers:

2007 -- Building OSGeo HigherEd Content: Reflecting on an Online Introduction to GIS Course Using QGIS. Free and Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) Conference, Victoria, Canada. September 25, 2007.


Support for this study was provided by a grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSFIIS 0447623). However, the findings, recommendations, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funding agency. Thanks go to Megan Conklin, Kevin Crowston and the FLOSSmole project (http://ossmole for making their Sourceforge data available, and for their assistance.