Hobbyists becoming more important to OpenSim success

New research released in March shows that OpenSim development is becoming increasingly led by entrepreneurs, hobbyists, and large corporations.

While entrepreneurs remain important in the development of OpenSim, hobbyists are becoming more essential, said report authors Robin Teigland and Zeynep Yetis of the Stockholm School of Economics and Paul M. Di Gangi of Loyola University in Maryland.

“This analysis reveals a clear dominance of entrepreneurs both in quantity and quality of code development, indicating the importance of this stakeholder group’s resource contribution to the community,” the paper said. “Hobbyists were relatively less active; however, over time they represented a larger portion of the commits to the OpenSimulator project growing from 10  to 30 percent of the top 20 committers during the two time periods.”

The new report analyses the importance of various contributors to OpenSim between August 2007 to October 2011. A previous study, released in January of this year, analysed the contributions of OpenSim developers from 2007 to 2009, and covered entrepreneurs, hobbyists, employees of large corporations, academics, and other groups. The study found that each group contributes something different to OpenSim.

Large corporations became important to “provide access to key infrastructural resources, for example, processing, storage,” according to the researchers, while hobbyists were important for “developing a holistic view of what work is being performed in the community.”

“Our initial findings related to the first period suggest that while entrepreneurs bring more energy, passion, and ideas, the large firm employees may bring more complex project and risk management skills as well as resources while hobbyists, whom we found in several instances of the more central people to be retirees or holding management positions in firms, may bring skills related to dialogue and conflict management,” the researchers said.

Member Turnover from Period One to Period Two
Member Turnover from Period One to Period Two

An analysis of the relative frequency of words used by the members of the different groups in their communications on forums and discussions list offered researchers an insight into the major concerns for each group. They concluded that entrepreneurs have remained stable in their interest in the development and monetary applications of OpenSim, using words like “currency,” “application development,” and “revision” most frequently.

“Large firm employees continue to maintain interest in the technical infrastructure and application of virtual worlds in specific areas, e.g., network, packets, sciencesim, scisim, etc.,” the researchers found, “while SMEs [small and medium enterprises] focused almost exclusively on application development.”

“The non-profits have shifted towards understanding the more technical aspects of OpenSimulator while the public sector stakeholders are focused on the use and application of virtual worlds,” according to the researchers. “The hobbyists also seemed to have shifted slightly with more interest in software use — for example, documentation, wiki, install, display, backup, et cetera.”

Unlike in the first two years, where academics were focussed on the development of the underlying platform, academics are now focussed on the research of virtual worlds and the applications they have to their university environment.

The researchers also looked at the underlying structure of the virtual community.

They discovered that “academics and hobbyists have taken a progressively more central role within the community serving as connectors between several entrepreneurs and large firms.”

Meanwhile, a change in trends of individuals active in virtual communities suggests that “the virtual world community may be entering a maturity phase where the foundation issues for developing and maintaining a virtual world have been resolved and the new members are focused on application and use.”

The researchers discovered that over the period of four years there was a high member turnover rate — which they believe suggests that a healthy turnover rate may be essential to keeping the virtual communities afloat, providing new ideas and skill sets to the community.

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