Assessing FOSS Projects

Students or people interested in coding usually work on small personal projects.  If one wants to expand their skill and assist a community, one can work on a Free and Open Source Software project.  I look at two FOSS projects to see if they would be a good place for a new contributor to start.  The two projects were VUFind and Mifos.  VUFind is a software for libraries to search through library resources.  The software is developed by libraries and is modular so libraries can implement some or all parts of the system.  Mifos is a platform designed to help bring financial services to areas of the world which do not have the services now.

As I was looking at each of these projects, I was looking at who was behind the project.  VUFind is backed by Villanova University’s Flavey library.  I guess that is where it gets the VU part of the project name.  While a University is backing it, there are only 43 active contributors.  This seems to be a small number but I guess it makes sense for a software aimed specifically for libraries.  Mifos on the other hand is backed by an organization called Community for Open Source Microfinance.  This is a non-profit organization which is designed to serve as the project sponsor.  Based on data from Github, in 2014 there was about 40 contributors but recently it has drop to less than ten contributors.  If you go to their Jira community where tasks and a wiki live there are over 500 people listed.

The community behind the project is only the start to looking if someone should join.  Another area is how one can assist the project.  Both projects have a Jira project to track bugs and features to be worked on.  They also both have use Github to store their code repository.  Mifos has a nice entry way for new contributors.  On their website under the Volunteer page there is a link for introductory volunteer tasks.  I could not find a similar page for VUFind.

One thing I noticed on both projects is at times it can be difficult to find how to get involved.  It is nice though both have multiple communication tools used for users and developers to communicate.  Both projects have an IRC chat room and email lists.  This is helpful for new people to get information and ask question to get involved.  The projects also have documentation for users and developers.  The one thing I believe the projects can improve at are the websites.  The website for VUFind needs more information on how people can get involved in the project.  Mifos on the other hand has a lot of good content but it is not organized well.  I think it would be helpful for Mifos to create a page for potential contributors to go to with links to other areas of the website.  This brings key information to one areas and speeds up the time it takes to onboard a new contributor.

If I were looking to join one of these projects I would look more to Mifos.  I personally find it easier to relate to a finance project then one for libraries.  Mifos also seems to have a better entry point for new contributors and a larger number of people working on the project.  Some might feel the more people the less I can contribute but as a new person on the project you are going to need help from people who understand the project better.  The more people you have the more likely it is you will be able to get questions answered quicker.

Leave a Reply