Sustainability of open source projects is one of my major concerns. Similar to any other shared-resource system, participation inequality is a major challenge in open source. This is known as the “volunteer’s dilemma”: everybody wants to benefit from a resource without contributing, expecting others will do the work. We have discussed in the past how I think bots could help here and the importance of looking beyond the code and fully embracing the community of users and developers around it, with all this entails, for instance, having a more open governance model.

Coupled with the lack of support by research institutions and evaluation agencies¬† (let’s see if the DORA declaration is really the start of a change or just a marketing strategy but so far journal publications are still far more important than any kind of successful tool) finding the time and resources to start and grow an open-source tool is a major challenge for any research community. Not impossible but it does require some planning ahead and some strategic decision, for instance, regarding onboarding industrial partners that could contribute to mature the tool (in exchange of being able to selling services on top of it). A spin-off of a research team could even become that company.

In my team, we’ve tried to create such impactful tools many times. And we’ve failed most of the time, forcing us to be honest regarding what you can expect if you try to use some of our tools. But it’s worth trying. At the very least, we have learned a lot, including all the students that have contributed to them (even if those contributions were not finally integrated due to their quality ;-)).

A summary of these lessons learned and past discussions have been integrated into this keynote talk for the Fourth International Workshop on Languages for Modelling Variability (MODEVAR 2021). I thank the organizers of Modevar’21 for their invitation and the great opportunity to exchange with them and all the other participants. If you couldn’t attend, check the slides and feel free to leave a comment here (or on Twitter) to continue the discussion!.

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