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Appendix B: Types of Knowledge Contributions to a FOSS Project

This table is an excellent overview of how the FOSS community really works. It serves as a great introduction to the "big picture". The author, Daniel German, is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Victoria. He is a core contributor to Panotools , a FOSS project hosted on SourceForge.

Type of contribution Description
Source code This is perhaps the most visible contribution.
Documentation In the form of Web sites, user and developer manuals, magazine and Web articles, books, FAQs, etc.
Internationalization Translations of the software and documentation into different languages.
Code Reviews The discussion and improvement of source code contributions.
Testing and debugging Formal or informal testing and debugging.
Bug reports Submit bug reports that can be used by the development team to track and fix defects.
Configuration management and build process Tasks required to maintain the environment necessary for multiple developers to participate.
Distribution of binaries Preparation of binaries for download by any user interested to try the software.
Suggestions Ideas on how to improve the product.
Answers to developer’s questions They help other developers who are contributing.
Answers to user’s questions They help individuals who are trying to use the software.
Release management Release management Dedicated to prepare and advertise new releases.
Legal They provide information regarding legal issues, such as licensing, and other intellectual property issues.
Web site development and maintenance These contributions usually gather knowledge from other sources and make sure it is persistent. It can also include those who contribute to wikis.
“Pointers” to knowledge Perhaps the smallest type of contribution it involves answering a question by “pointing” to another source of information (such as a Web site or a research article).
Distribution packaging Knowledge needed to prepare packages to be included in distributions (such as SUSE, Red Hat, Fedora, etc).

Source: "The Flow of Knowledge in Free and Open Source Communities", Daniel German, presented at 2nd International Workshop on Supporting Knowledge Collaboration in Software Development (KCSD2006) in Tokyo, Japan on September 19, 2006.

  • "The Flow of Knowledge in Free and Open Source Communities" (PDF document), by Daniel M. German:

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