Wide Open Archetype
Characteristics: Wide Open projects actively welcome contributions from any source, and tend to get contributions at all levels: from individual developers providing one-off bug fixes to sustained organizational contributors developing major features and being involved in long-range project planning.
A Wide Open project values investing in contributors relatively highly: the core development team is generally willing to pay a high opportunity cost (in terms of code not written or bugs not fixed) in order to encourage or onboard a promising new contributor. The project’s collaboration tools and processes reflect this prioritization. For example, the experienced developers in the project will still take the time to hold design discussions in forums-of record — even when many of the individuals concerned are co-located and could make the decisions in person — in order to publicly reinforce the possibility of participation by any other self-nominated interested party.
Wide Open is a good archetype for projects that aim to serve the same technical purpose over a long period of time, and for which stability and reliability are more important than rapid development of the code base or fast adoption of field-specific innovations. Wide Open is also especially effective when some significant percentage of the user base is technically oriented (and thus susceptible to being converted to contributors), and when regular contact with a broad developer base is likely to bring real-world usage information that would be difficult for Mozilla to acquire in any other way.
Wide Open projects should expect the majority of contributors to be only lightly involved making the occasional small-scale contribution here and there, but not investing heavily in the project. A much smaller number of contributors will participate with higher degrees of intensity. Contributors tend to cycle in and out of these groups over time, and one of the strengths of the Wide Open archetype is that it makes it easy (from the contributors’ point of view) for that cycling to happen, because the project as a whole is willing to sustain the overhead of maintaining permanent “on-ramps” to greater involvement.
In general, Wide Open projects usually settle on multi-party governance in some roughly democratic form. This is because when there are many contributors, some of them will expect to be able to climb the influence ladder by investing time and making quality contributions. Even for those who don’t seek that climb, the knowledge that it’s available – i.e., that past investment could, at some future point, be retroactively incorporated into a larger strategy of influence – is part of what makes working in a Wide Open project appealing.
In some ways the Linux kernel project could be considered “Wide Open”. However, both technically and culturally, Linux kernel development is sui generis and we have deliberately avoided using it as the basis for any archetype. It is still possible for a single organization to retain significant and possibly decisive influence in a Wide Open project. The typical way to do so is to invest the most developer time. However, when an organization chooses that course, it must then be especially careful not to demotivate others by accidentally quashing their ability — real or perceived — to achieve influence. Simply declaring a project “Wide Open” and being receptive to contributions is not enough; ultimately, Wide Open projects work best when they are visibly influenceable by input from multiple sources, although one organization may be “first among equals” and remain able to exercise leadership in major decisions.
Examples: Rust (present day), Apache HTTPD
Licensing: Can be copyleft or non-copyleft.
Community standards: Very welcoming to contributors, to the point of having formalized systems for onboarding newcomers.
Component coupling: This archetype applies to many technically different projects, so the component organization could go any number of ways.
Main benefits: Enables large-scale collaboration. Community can become self-sustaining, which allows the original sponsoring organization some flexibility in deciding how involved to stay.
Typical governance: Group-based and more or less democratic. In practice, most decisions are made by consensus, but voting is available as a fallback when consensus cannot be reached. There is usually a formal committer group to approve contributions and anoint new committers.