It Will Never Work in Theory

Social coding in GitHub

Posted Mar 1, 2012 by Jorge Aranda

| Collaboration | Open Source | Qualitative Studies |

Laura Dabbish, Colleen Stuart, Jason Tsay, and Jim Herbsleb. "Social Coding in GitHub: Transparency and Collaboration in an Open Software Repository" CSCW 2012.

Social applications on the web let users track and follow the activities of a large number of others regardless of location or affiliation. There is a potential for this transparency to radically improve collaboration and learning in complex knowledge-based activities. Based on a series of in-depth interviews with central and peripheral GitHub users, we examined the value of transparency for large-scale distributed collaborations and communities of practice. We find that people make a surprisingly rich set of social inferences from the networked activity information in GitHub, such as inferring someone else's technical goals and vision when they edit code, or guessing which of several similar projects has the best chance of thriving in the long term. Users combine these inferences into effective strategies for coordinating work, advancing technical skills and managing their reputation.

Platforms like GitHub provide an interesting twist to social dynamics in open source: they make it easy for everyone to keep track of, interact, collaborate, and be aware of the work of other developers, including some of the best in the world, all in one place. This paper by Dabbish & Co reports on work habits and perceptions of "central and peripheral" GitHub users. If you're new to GitHub, this paper is a good take on its social aspect, but if you're already used to working in GitHub, there will be little that will surprise you here. Still, I found some cool nuggets that might interest you. For instance, that once people amass an audience looking at their code production, they become more careful about what they make available publicly. Also, that some people get followers not because of programming ability or personal connections, but because they have "good taste" in the projects they themselves follow.

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