What are quasi-contributors and how common are them?

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This is a summary of the paper “Almost There: A Study on Quasi-Contributors in Open-Source Software Projects”. Quasi-contributor is a contributor that tried to contribute to open-source software but did not succeed, i.e., the pull-request was not accepted, for any reason. For the impatient, there is a summary of the summary:

  1. Quasi-contributors are rather common. They are about 70% the number of actual-contributors. In some projects, there are more quasi-contributors than actual contributors.

  2. Many reasons for non-acceptance. Quasi-contributors believe there is a lack of communication, commitment, and experience. Integrators agree with quasi-contributors that not needed pull-requests are among the most common cause for nonacceptance.

  3. 1/3 of Quasi-contributors disagree with nonacceptance. 32% of the quasi-contributors do not agree with the decision of not having their contribution accepted — for 19% of quasi-contributors that did not concur also felt demotivated or prevented to place additional contributions. 12% of the quasi-contributors reported that the feedback from the code review was not constructive.

Although there is a need of workforce to drive open source projects, many developers, newcomers to a project, send contributions which are not incorporated into the source code and give up trying. To better understand quasi-contributors and their rejected contributions, we mined data and metadata of 21 well-known, nontrivial, and popular OSS projects. We also surveyed 335 quasi-contributors and 21 project integrators (maintainers that are in charge of integrating changes proposed).

We observed that quasi-contributors are rater common. In three projects analyzed (angular.js, bootstrap, rails), there are more than 1,000 quasi-contributors in each one of them. In five out of the 21 projects, there are more quasi-contributors than actual ones. In some cases, the number of quasi-contributors is significantly higher: for instance, project bootstrap, has 2.3x more quasi-contributors than actual ones (it has 1,962 quasi-contributors and 844 contributors). On average, there are 480.9 quasi-contributors per project. Regarding the number of attempts, on average, a quasi-contributor tried 1.22 times (85% of the quasi-contributors tried only once). On the other side of the distribution, however, we found some quasi-contributors that tried really hard, but still did not succeed. In the bootstrap project, one quasi-contributor proposed 13 unaccepted pull-requests.

We conducted a survey with quasi-contributors, and they mentioned several reasons for why the pull-request proposed was not accepted. The most common reason is superseded/duplicated pull-request (e.g., “Other pull-requests fixed the same issues as my pull-requests”). Mismatch between developer’s and team’s vision/opinion is also common (e.g., “when you add a new feature to the project, your vision can be out of tune with the vision of the project’s team, and this is natural”). We also observed a lack of interest from integrators (e.g. “It was ignored maybe because it was a very minor fix”). We also asked integrators about the reasons for non-acceptance. According to them, the most common reason for nonacceptance is PR not needed/not relevant (e.g., “[such contribution] solves the immediate/local problem but does not address the deeper systemic issue”). The second most common reason is Guidelines not followed. According to one integrator, such guidelines can range from “coding style, lack of tests, or messy versioning history”. Interestingly, none of the integrators assumed the mea culpa, i.e., the lack of interest from integrators aforementioned.

Most of the quasi-contributors surveyed agreed with the decision of having the pull-request unmerged (67.4%) and that the comments were constructive (88.8%). However, the number of unmerged pull-requests, the 30.3% of the developers that reported demotivation, and the 32.6% that reported disagreement with the community decision are not negligible. Moreover, 99 quasi-contributors did not agree with the pull-request nonacceptance, and 62.6% of them (62) answered that this fact demotivated or prevented them from placing another pull-request.