Understanding peer influence, participation and contribution in open source software (OSS) developers' social networks

瞭解開源軟體發展社交網路下的同伴影響, 參加和貢獻

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

View graph of relations


  • Xuan YANG

Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
Award date2 Oct 2015


Voluntary participation and contribution from motivated developers are essential for the success of open source software (OSS) projects. Previous OSS studies mainly focus on developers’ individual and group motivations, such as altruism, ideologies and career advancement opportunities. However, a very important relational perspective that affects participation and contribution – the influence a developer receives from the peers in his social network – is largely overlooked. As large social network data becomes more readily available through Internet-based services such as microblogging and online communities, it becomes increasingly important to understand the impacts of peer influence and its moderators on OSS developers’ participation and contribution behaviors. To this end, based on social (peer) influence theories and OSS literature, this thesis uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to examine how peer influence and its moderators may affect OSS developers’ project participation and contribution behaviors. Longitudinal data from a global OSS community – Ohloh - was collected and parsed using web crawler and parser. The collected data set consists of information about 402,402 OSS developers and 596,261 projects. I constructed two social networks based on two major types of social relationships in Ohloh – microblogging followers and positive evaluation relationships. A small scale interview of Ohloh developers is conducted to investigate possible causes and moderating factors of peer influence. Then using the Ohloh data, I adopted longitudinal regression analysis to analyze the impacts of peer influence and its moderators on OSS developers’ participation and contribution behaviors. The main findings of this thesis are two-fold. First, the statistical analysis found that the participation and contribution behaviors of OSS developers are influenced by their peers in their microblogging and positive evaluation relationships/networks. Second, several factors including peers’ characteristics (e.g., OSS experience, number of past projects, and number of total commits) and relationship attributes between ego-peer pairs (e.g., relationship duration, microblogging message counts, status difference) have been found to positively moderate the impacts of peer influence on OSS developers. It was found that the moderating effects are dependent on relationship types, relationship attributes, peers' characteristics, and behavior types. To the best of my knowledge, this thesis is the first that adopts a social influence perspective to investigate OSS developers’ project participation and contribution behaviors. From the theoretical perspective, this thesis contributes to OSS research by introducing a novel theoretical lens (i.e., social/peer influence) in studying developers’ participation and contribution behaviors. From the methodological perspective, this research provides a good example for how to use qualitative findings from a small scale interview for the design of a large scale quantitative analysis of peer influence. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are used to achieve an integrative view of understanding peer influence (meta-inference). From the practical perspective, the empirical findings on how various moderators moderate peer influence in OSS social networks may offer insights to OSS stakeholders for devising effective strategies to attract participation and contribution. These findings can also help stakeholders to build a more collaborative environment, thereby improving OSS project success.

    Research areas

  • Social aspects, Social aspects., Open source software, Online social networks