Itches You Shouldn't Scratch

by Mike Gunderloy - Jul. 30, 2008Comments (8)

You've probably heard this sage advice about figuring out what open source software to write: "scratch your own itch." The intent of the advice, of course, is to tell you that the easiest way to choose a bit of software to work on is to find something that you want and write it. But easy though this advice is to give - which may account for why it's given so often - there are times when it is, I think, just flat-out wrong.

The problem is that an awful lot of developers have the same itch - and they don't always look around before they scratch it. Think about the number of text editors in the open source world, or the number of CMS's, or the number of Rails documentation sites. Don't we already have enough of some categories of software?

I'm not suggesting that the large incumbent open source projects are perfect - far from it. What I am suggesting is that there's very little chance that a brand new bug-tracking system, say, is ever going to get much traction in a world where there are hundreds of choices already. If bug-tracking is your itch, you should think long and hard before scratching it, well, from scratch. Your efforts are much more likely to be useful to the community if you get involved with an existing project and improve its code instead.

Being part of an open source team isn't as much of an ego boost as being the lead on a new project. And it can be hard to come into a large existing codebase and get a good enough handle on it to contribute effectively. But you have to ask yourself whether you're coding for ego, or to have some well-used software that you can say you're a part of. For most developers, the long-range benefit of success should be more important than being the lead developer.

And if you do have a unique itch, or think you can beat out all the existing products in a niche - go for it! Just don't be surprised if the world doesn't beat an immediate path to your door.


Stacey Schneider uses OStatic to support Open Source, ask and answer questions and stay informed. What about you?



8 Comments
 

Just look at the sheer number of projects under some categories. I could not agree more! The other issue here is that people often times will create something with the right intentions, work on it for a while, and then completely ditch it because they get stuck.... A lot of flotsam....

0 Votes

And a lot of bloat....Even though Sf.net lists out 185k projects - I'd speculate that 180k of those are forgettable at best...

0 Votes

@FossYou - you sound like the typical "user" with little/nothing to contribute to the equation. Some of the 180k projects out there might be useless but the vast majority of them serve a purpose - even if it is a SINGLE purpose - they are available to anyone else who might at some point have a similar need or some part thereof...

0 Votes

Sure a lot of OSS projects would benefit from more brainpower and time that may be getting spent on new, competing projects instead, but healthy competition, variety of choice, and a heterogeneous ecosystem are good too. The best options will bubble to the top through natural selection.

0 Votes

What causes the duplication? * Sometimes it is the ego of Lead or Group or the new person. * Ego boost of being the Lead. * Poor fit to add the changes to existing product. * Failure to look around? * Need for faster development, that by committee.

0 Votes

This is just more 'F/OSS needs a central authority to be successful' fluff.

No.

It.

Doesn't.

It's gaining traction now, in spite of the opposition by that leader of central planning, Microsoft.

In fact, Microsoft has crushed all other competition that has some kind of centralized bureaucracy. But they seem to behaving trouble with F/OSS.

So why should the community change it's ways to become more like Microsoft? So that it can put out software of the same quality? Why would F/OSS developers lower their standards like that?

0 Votes

This is just more 'F/OSS needs a central authority to be successful' fluff.

No.

It.

Doesn't.

It's gaining traction now, in spite of the opposition by that leader of central planning, Microsoft.

In fact, Microsoft has crushed all other competition that has some kind of centralized bureaucracy. But they seem to behaving trouble with F/OSS.

So why should the community change it's ways to become more like Microsoft? So that it can put out software of the same quality? Why would F/OSS developers lower their standards like that?

0 Votes

This call goes out in various forms, but the gist is, "To save people from having to wade through 1000's of projects, why don't you guys just work on a couple of them and make them really good.", some software development works like that and some doesn't. SF was built, and is maintained to host all those projects on purpose, ideally the Open Source ecosystem allows for Darwinian, survival of the fittest, many approaches are pursued, and the "best" are adopted en masse, while some "lesser" projects are pigeon-holed. Homogeneous environments are readily available for people who don't want to "wade through" the vast array of choices, but please stop telling potential developers to "Stop reinventing the wheel", any moment now one that actually works the way I need it to is going to show up in some FOSS repository, unless developers actually get convinced that, "everything worth inventing has already been invented", and they should accept their inevitable role as "Turd polisher".

0 Votes
Share Your Comments

If you are a member, to have your comment attributed to you. If you are not yet a member, Join OStatic and help the Open Source community by sharing your thoughts, answering user questions and providing reviews and alternatives for projects.