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Hierarchy and centralization in free and open source software team communications


Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) development teams provide an interesting and convenient setting for studying distributed work. We begin by answering perhaps the most basic question: what is the social structure of these teams? We conducted social network analyses of bug-fixing interactions from three repositories: Sourceforge, GNU Savannah and Apache Bugzilla. We find that some OSS teams are highly centralized, but contrary to expectation, others are not. Projects are mostly quite hierarchical on four measures of hierarchy, consistent with past research but contrary to the naive image of these projects. Furthermore, we find that the level of centralization is negatively correlated with project size, suggesting that larger projects become more modular, or possibly that becoming more modular is a key to growth. The paper makes a further methodological contribution by identifying appropriate analysis approaches for interaction data. We conclude by sketching directions for future research.

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He is currently program director for the school’s Ph.D. in Information Science and Technology. Prior to moving to Syracuse, he taught for five years at the University of Michigan Business School. He received his A.B. in Applied Mathematics (Computer Science) from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in Information Technologies from the Sloan School of Management, MIT. His current research interests focus on new ways of organizing made possible by the use of information technology.

His research interests is in technology and collaboration and currently focuses on the social science of software engineering and “wireless grids” (distributed ad hoc resource sharing). He received his undergraduate degree in economics and politics from the University of Sydney. In 2001 he undertook graduate study in Software Engineering at the University of New South Wales before transferring to the Syracuse University School of Information Studies Ph.D. program in 2002. He was recently published in IEEE Internet Computing and First Monday. He is a sometime contributor to “Bibdesk,” an open source bibliographic manager for OS X.

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Crowston, K., Howison, J. Hierarchy and centralization in free and open source software team communications. Know Techn Pol 18, 65–85 (2006).

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  • Efficiency Score
  • Open Source Software
  • Social Network Analysis
  • Project Size
  • Global Software Development