[SIGCIS-Members] Understanding Code Forking in Open Source Software

Bjorn Westergard bjornw at gmail.com
Tue Feb 17 11:41:04 PST 2015

Point being: code is as much a normative statement of a standard, of a
convention, as it is a mechanism that achieves a result. The "freedom" to
fork is no good if the community is decimated in the process, severing the
connection to living labor.

On Tue, Feb 17, 2015 at 2:38 PM, Bjorn Westergard <bjornw at gmail.com> wrote:

> Neat.
> Much interesting source material for the social scientist can be found in
> pull request comments on Github.
> Consider this <https://github.com/twbs/bootstrap/issues/3057> interminable
> thread about semicolons. It seems like it should be a totally bloodless
> conversation about an arbitrary convention. But it quickly becomes a
> conversation about personal authority (Crockford), which project's
> coherence and imperatives should trump others in an expansive network of
> dependencies (with "allies" in Latour's sense enlisted on all sides),
> appeals to the interests of "newbies" and even some gender-struggle ("fat
> is such a brogrammer").
> It's simple, you want a semicolon there. Fork the repo and add it yourself
>> and shut your mouth. Problem solved.
> On Mon, Feb 16, 2015 at 9:15 AM, Brian Randell <
> brian.randell at newcastle.ac.uk> wrote:
>> Hi:
>> I’ve just been sent details of a PhD dissertation by Linus Nyman,
>> "Understanding Code Forking in Open Source Software”, that I think will
>> interest a number of SIGCIS members (across the historian of science -
>> computer scientist spectrum), and which I don’t recall being discussed here
>> before.
>> The abstract:
>> > Open source software is everywhere. From phones, tablets, TVs, and game
>> consoles to less self-evident examples like cars, washing machines, and the
>> International Space Station. However, what makes open source software
>> remarkable is not where it can be found, but rather what can be done with
>> it. One of the most astounding rights guaranteed by all open source
>> software licenses is the right to fork the source code. In other words, the
>> right to copy any program, either in part or in its entirety, and use that
>> program to create a new, modified version of it.
>> >
>> > The right to fork has an enormous impact on both the development and
>> governance of open source software. Despite its significance, code forking
>> has seen little academic study. This dissertation examines the right to
>> fork, its impact and significance, and how it is viewed and practiced by
>> developers.
>> >
>> > The study draws on data consisting of hundreds of forks, interviews
>> with open source software programmers, and an in-depth analysis of the
>> birth of the MariaDB fork. This dissertation is relevant to anyone seeking
>> a greater general understanding of how open source works and why it is
>> considered a superior software development model. It may also serve as a
>> useful resource for firms seeking to harness the power of open source
>> software. Furthermore, it offers important insights to those who want to
>> better understand how code forking is practiced and viewed by developers.
>> >
>> > This study finds that forks are primarily started for non-competitive
>> reasons, with unique features or goals that distinguish them from their
>> parent projects. Competitive forks are rare but do exist, with some
>> motivating factors being to ensure the freedom of the code and the
>> community’s ability to contribute to it. Furthermore, though developers may
>> not always agree with the forking of a project, they nonetheless consider
>> the right to fork to be of vital importance, and a cornerstone of free and
>> open source software.
>> >
>> > In many ways, open source can be thought of as a return to how software
>> was developed before the emergence of proprietary licensing. The same
>> freedoms of development and sharing that thrived back then can be found
>> today in the open source community. Indeed, in many ways the right to fork
>> is synonymous with freedom: the freedom to explore and experiment, the
>> freedom to benefit from the work done by others, and the freedom to keep
>> any project relevant and vibrant even when faced with leadership decisions
>> that are deemed unsupportable. In short, the right to fork is open source
>> software’s guardian of freedom and watchdog of meritocracy.
>> Full text available at: https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/153135
>> Cheers
>> Brian Randell
>> --
>> School of Computing Science, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne,
>> NE1 7RU, UK
>> EMAIL = Brian.Randell at ncl.ac.uk   PHONE = +44 191 208 7923
>> FAX = +44 191 208 8232  URL =
>> http://www.cs.ncl.ac.uk/people/brian.randell
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