Google Research

Which contributions count? Analysis of attribution in open source

  • Amanda Marie Casari
  • James P. Bagrow
  • Jean-Gabriel Young
  • Katie McLaughlin
  • Laurent Hébert-Dufresne
  • Milo Z. Trujillo
2021 IEEE/ACM 18th International Conference on Mining Software Repositories (MSR), IEEE (2021), pp. 242-253


Open source software projects usually acknowledge contributions with text files, websites, and other idiosyncratic methods. These data sources are hard to mine, which is why contributorship is most frequently measured through changes to repositories, such as commits, pushes, or patches. Recently, some open source projects have taken to recording contributor actions with standardized systems; this opens up a unique opportunity to understand how community-generated notions of contributorship map onto codebases as the measure of contribution. Here, we characterize contributor acknowledgment models in open source by analyzing thousands of projects that use a model called All Contributors to acknowledge diverse contributions like outreach, finance, infrastructure, and community management. We analyze the life cycle of projects through this model's lens and contrast its representation of contributorship with the picture given by other methods of acknowledgment, including GitHub's top committers indicator and contributions derived from actions taken on the platform. We find that community-generated systems of contribution acknowledgment make work like idea generation or bug finding more visible, which generates a more extensive picture of collaboration. Further, we find that models requiring explicit attribution lead to more clearly defined boundaries around what is and what is not a contribution.

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