What’s the biggest problem in open source right now?

Documentation.

Fig.1 - Problems encountered in open source

The 2017 Open Source Survey, carried out by GitHub is a valuable source of information. Large parts of it, however, prove somewhat difficult to intepret and act upon given the huge skew in gender:

The gender imbalance in open source remains profound: 95% of respondents are men; just 3% are women and 1% are non-binary. Women are about as likely as men (68% vs 73%) to say they are very interested in making future contributions, but less likely to say they are very likely to actually do so (45% vs 61%).

There’s a systemic issue here. While the survey indicates that ‘serious’ incidents have been experienced by a relatively few number of respondents, these have an outsized impact on the community:

By far, the most frequently encountered bad behavior is rudeness (45% witnessed, 16% experienced), followed by name calling (20% witnessed, 5% experienced) and stereotyping (11% witnessed, 3% experienced). More serious incidents, such as sexual advances, stalking, or doxxing are each encountered by less than 5% of respondents and experienced by less than 2% (but cumulatively witnessed by 14%, and experienced by 3%).

There’s work to do here. Privileged white males like me who are involved in open source (in whatever way) need to realise that issues that affect anyone in the community affect the whole community. It’s easy to see why “not all open source contributors” isn’t a valid response when you see data like this:

Fig.3 - Importance to project

Finally, with one important caveat, this last chart chimes with what I look for when seeking out new software:

FIg.5 - What open source users value in software

The reason the ‘support’ option scores so low, I’d argue, is because of the survey methodology. People who are actively contributing code to open source projects are a subset of users of the software. Given that ‘documentation’ would come under ‘support’, it’s ironic that the first and last chart here seem to contradict one another!

Either way, it’s clear that the open source community still has work to do to make people new to projects feel involved, and for them to know what to do. I’d call this ensuring you’ve got your ‘architecture of participation’ right.