Why collaboration is worth the investment

Collaborating in an open source project might take time, but is worth the investment. Especially when bootstrapping a project and with a small community, the overhead projects need to put into the collaboration can be significant. But the rewards can make this worth the effort, even when having as few as 3 collaborators. At TransferSummit, I presented on this topic and the primary slide from that presentation was this one:

It shows that even when as much of 40% of your time is spent on collaboration, you can get more back than you invest, even in smaller communities. The loss of productive time is compensated by the contributions you get back as a result of the investment in the collaboration. Not everything others are contributing to your project is of value to you, but there is always an overlapping need, and in the example on the slide we’re assuming that’s about half of their contribution. When working with a small number of project partners, this can already be worth while.

An example of how you can get more back by working together occurred recently with a series of projects that OSS Watch has been involved with. It’s an example of how by working in an open development context you can innovate faster and get results quicker, with everyone benefiting.

This example begins with the University of Bolton, who created the Wookie Widget environment as a result of an EU-funded project. This is now a project in the Apache Incubator.

The Wookie Widget environment formed the basis of a project funded by the IPO. That project built a widget making use of the Wookie server, to display a walk-through to guide users through the different issues concerned with open licensing. Most of the content that was used in this project was previously created by OSS Watch, and we therefore profited ourselves from this project.

Separately, the Rave in Context project built a templating system usable in the Wookie environment. By working with the Wookie community the Rave in Context project received more value through validation and testing of the template system and some additional functionality, such as the
option to change the order in which overridden content is given preference in template-produced widgets. On the other hand, the Wookie community profited from getting a templating system that makes it much easier to create widgets that are usable and accessible out-of-the-box, thereby increasing chances for uptake of the project by new potential collaborators.

Now OpenDirective are about to embark on creating a self-learning widget to help users assess the openness of open source projects. This new widget will be used by OpenDirective as a tool for supporting their clients and has value for OSS Watch in supporting our projects as well. This new ‘openness widget’ will be based on an improvement of the original IPO widget and on the Rave in Context templating system. This feeds features of the templating system back to the IPO widget. For example, it now works well on small screens, which was out of scope on first version. It benefits OSS Watch, because it enables us to use our content on assessing the openness of projects in a new and easy-to-use tool. It is beneficial to the Rave in Context templating system and therefore to the Wookie community, because of the extra validation of the templating system and additional functionality that the approach with the IPO widget offers.

On a very small scale, all of these projects provide value to each other by collaborating with the other communities and reusing what has already been produced. It demonstrates that you don’t need a huge project with big budgets to reap the fruits of open developments!