Questions to Ask Before Launching an Open Source Project

I’ve been at Samsung in the Open Source Group as Senior Open Source Strategist for about three months now, and one of the most exciting parts of my job is to help internal groups prepare to spin up new open source projects. This is something that I particularly enjoy, having spent five years at The Linux Foundation doing pretty much the same thing (albeit seated in a different place at the table).

So You Think You Can Open Source?

One of the things I’ve noticed over the past few years is that it’s really easy and exciting for people to say, “Open source is hot! Let’s create a new project, do some open source-y stuff, and change the world! And let’s tell the boss we’re doing this right away!”

In some cases (including a few I’m working on right now) this genuinely is the case. Truly transformative technologies tend to get their start with a brilliant dreamer, but hit their stride when the ability to expand and innovate is opened up to others. Building an open source community has become the tech industry’s de-facto solution to the founder’s dilemma.

The other side of this is that not all acorns can become the tallest oaks in the forest. Some open source projects limp along while others flop badly, and in the process they can drain time, money, and morale. Clearly this is not what anybody wants, although it’s not always immediately apparent which ideas will prosper and which will fail.

The reality is that technology itself can be somewhat distracting. It’s very easy to say, “Hey, this is the best thing since sliced bread, who wouldn’t want to work on it?” This is a loaded question, and a hard one to answer consistently because we all tend to be blind to our weaknesses.

The Pre-Open Sourcing Sanity Check

To address this we’ve been developing a structured process for evaluating open source project proposals. The goal is to identify proposals that aren’t likely to be successful before they’re set in motion, so we can modify or reject the ones that aren’t quite right. In certain cases, this may even mean doing something other than open source. Hopefully though, in the end it will result in a pipeline of high quality, focused, and useful open source projects from Samsung.

To that end we recently published a presentation that outlines, at a high level, the questions we ask when a new project is proposed to the Open Source Group at Samsung. The Pre-Open Sourcing Sanity Check focuses on four key questions:

  1. Can we do it?
  2. Should we do it?
  3. Who will we do it with?
  4. How will we do it?

Of course, exceptions do apply. Not every project will have the same answers for all questions, and it would be incorrect to presume the “best practices” outlined in this document (based upon years of first-hand Linux Foundation experience) apply universally. However, we think applying these sanity checks to the front-end of the open sourcing process will help us be better and more consistent with Samsung-initiated open source projects in the future.

Once a project has satisfactory answers for these questions we move them onto the next phase, which is to work out all of the details and decision points needed for a launch – but that’s a discussion for another time.

Have a look, and let me know what you think. I’m particularly interested in what has worked for you that’s missing from this list. You can find me at @RealBrianWarner.