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GitHub Surveys Open Source: Documentation, License, Usage at Work

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GitHub has conducted a survey on open source projects, publishing the results they found analyzing the data collected. They were interested in how developers relate to open source, what the role of documentation is, and the level and impact of negative interactions appearing in projects.

The survey's authors have condensed their findings as following:

  • Documentation is highly valued, frequently overlooked, and a means for establishing inclusive and accessible communities.
  • Negative interactions are infrequent but highly visible, with consequences for project activity.
  • Open source is used by the whole world, but its contributors don't yet reflect its broad audience.
  • Using and contributing to open source often happens on the job.
  • Open source is the default when choosing software.

Among the issues encountered with open source projects, the survey found that the most annoying issue is Incomplete or confusing documentation (>90%) followed by Unresponsiveness (~80%). Dismissive responses (55%), Conflict (45%), Unexplained rejection (33%), and Unwelcoming language or content (~15%). Clearly there is a documentation problem with these projects, and it has perhaps something to do with developers' love to code but dislike to write documentation.

Detailing on documentation, 93% of the respondents complained that most of the documentation is incomplete or outdated. Also, 60% of them say they never or seldom write any documentation. Being such a pervasive problem, GitHub recommends users to help project maintainers by fixing, updating or adding documentation when they run into issues.

The license of a project is a determinant factor for 67% of users when deciding to contribute to a project. When it comes to using a project, 64% say they consider the project's license as very important. In both cases, about two thirds of users value the license as very important.

Another finding of the survey is that open source matters at work: 94% of those employed have used open source at least once, while 81% use it frequently. Also, 65% of the contributors are doing it as part of their work, and "many people cite their open source work as important to getting their current job."

People see open source software as more secure than the proprietary one (58%), but not many praise open source as stable (30%) and having a good user experience (36%). In spite of these low numbers, 72% still start the evaluation with open source projects when in search of new software.

For more details on how open source projects are used today, including interactions, inclusiveness, usage at work, we recommend reading the entire analysis of the survey. The entire raw data (ZIP) can be downloaded and further analyzed by those interested.

Regarding the methodology used in this study, 5,500 randomly selected respondents were involved from 3,800 GitHub projects, along with an extra 500 non-random responses from other communities.

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Community comments

  • Github has a long way to go

    by Bam Ezu,

    Your message is awaiting moderation. Thank you for participating in the discussion.

    From the report :
    "The gender imbalance in open source remains profound: 95% of respondents are men; just 3% are women and 1% are non-binary."
    "1% of respondents identify as transgender"
    "26% are immigrants"

    There is a clear lack of inclusivity here. This kind of imbalance should be actively corrected by Github. What is doing their Trust & Safety department ? Why not doing some targeted promotions for non cis-gender, non-Whites (or Asian), non-men ? So much can be done, it's sad to always repeat the old (patriarchal) pattern.

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