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Ohloh becoming sensible

Almost 1 year ago I blogged about Ohloh, and eZ Components being registered there. Those days I just found it funny to see how they measure the project cost of open source projects based on the ammount of code contained and things. Recently I am actively watching Ohloh and I think, by now it becomes a serious project with real value for every involved party. The maintainers added many new features to Ohloh, since I last blogged about it, and many contributors started participating in the service. So, I want to revise my "review" of Ohloh from the last year and explain how I see it by now.

If you are familiar with Ohloh, you can skip the next section and just start with the "Where is my value?" part, if you like.

Ohlo features

Ohloh still measures open source projects and still has a cost and effort estimation for each project. Additionally, stats on documentation and size, respectively activity, of the involved development team are automatically measured from the projects source code repositories. Based on these statistics and statistics of similar projects, e.g. those which are using the same platform or programming language, Ohloh tries to automatically assign rating statements, so called factoids, to the project. For example eZ Components is rated as being "Mostly written in PHP", "Large, active development team" and "Extremely well-commented source code".

While I can confirm all of this statements and the first rating is quite obvious, the rating basis of the latter 2 factoids is not that clear at a first glance. But quoting the Ohloh website should give you a hint, how Ohloh legetimates these statements: "Over the past twelve months, 12 developers contributed new code to eZ Components. This is a relatively large team, putting this project among the top 10% of all project teams on Ohloh." and "Across all PHP projects on Ohloh, 10% of all source code lines are comments. For eZ Components, this figure is 33%. This very impressive number of comments puts eZ Components among the best 10% of all PHP projects on Ohloh. A high number of comments might indicate that the code is well-documented and organized, and could be a sign of a helpful and disciplined development team.".

In addition to the automatically calculated project stats and ratings, registered users can now write reviews about projects, give ratings about them and assign tags. It is also possible to register links, that provide additional information about the project, to add further source code repositories and to get RSS feeds about the project aggregated. While these are the usual Web 2.0 features, which you just expect in any upcoming web project nowerdays, there are some specialities, which I consider really useful and unique (mostly because the project is unique :).

As a user you can create a stack of open source projects you are actively using. Based on this, Ohloh tries to recommend projects you might also be interessted in, and presents users to you, which own similar stacks. While this seems just again to be the typical social aspect of Web 2.0 applications (quite senseless in itself, but fun to use), there are some really useful aspects here. I'll come back to this later. In addition, you get the chance to assign yourself as a contributor to a project and map the username you are using in the source code repository to your Ohloh user. This way, all your contributions to open source projects in are aggregated in a single place. Ohloh does not only provide information about your commit stats and your activity on the project, but also estimates your experience level with certain technologies, based on your commits.

Another important social feature is that you can give kudos to contributors for their contributions to a specific project. While kudos always existed in the open source world, this is the first time (AFAIK) that you can officially state your appreciation for the work of a contributor. Ohloh uses a quite complex algorithm to measure the kudo level of a contributor, which implies the kudo level of the user giving the kudo, the ammount of kudos he gave to people overall and also the ammount of users that stacked your project and some more.

You can enhance your own profile, by adding location information to it, so that users near to you will be shown in a Google map and users / contributors of a project, who are located near to you, are shown, too. The latest feature is, that you may add further information about the projects you contribute to, like the position you had/have in the project, the tools you gathered experience with during your work and the languages you used, which might possibly not be visible in the commit stats.

There are still lots of more features I could list here, but I'll leave this to your own experience with Ohloh. My main intention was just to give you a short overview, what the tool is capable to do. I guess that worked?

Where is my value?

So, this is just the usual Web 2.0 hype thingie, you propably think by now. There is nothing really usefull there, at least nothing which is more useful than, for example, Flickr. No, I think there is a difference here. The Ohloh project can become (and is already in some ways) a really sensible tool for different groups of people.

First of all, it is extremly valueable for users which are new to open source. Try to imagine that you are searching for a tool, which performs a specific task. Most propably you will be stunned by the variaty of projects that can perform the task or are related to it. In this case, Ohloh can give you a nice overview about the different projects and their activity state, which helps you to not get trapped by unmaintained or crappy projects. Additionally, you can get to know interessting new projects, by the recommendations of Ohlohs stacks and possible get in touch with other open source users and developers near you.

I expect you are not that new to open source, so this might propably not be a good reason for you. Additionally, there are different other websites, where new users can collect all those information, so it is not really a unique value, but only a nice enhancement to get the information in a single place. So let's look at another group of potential users, that Ohloh offers value for: Management people. Let's try the thought experiment again. Imagine you are an IT manager or software architect of a company, no matter if a small, medium or large size one. You now need to decide for a new tool to be introduced in your company for a specific purpose. What will your decision be based on?

Sure, commercial vendors will bomb you with marketing arguments, but you still need to research if there is enough truth behind those and it is often difficult to get some hard facts about the product you might choose. With open source projects you have at least the possibility to dig into the source code yourself (or possibly delegate this task to some developer). You can try to examine the code quality and dig into mailinglist archives to collect other users impressions. You can also try to estimate the size and skills of the development team. But all of this consumes a lot of time and if you need to decide among several projects, the task is almost impossible to solve. Ohloh solves at least some parts for you here and provides a well-thought basis for you, with many important facts in 1 central place. Beside that, you can directly see, if a contributor is possibly located near to you, which is propably interessted in providing commercial support and consulting for the project to you. You will also get an impression of the key contributors and can estimate the skills of a possible consultant.

Ok, let's finally stop with though experiments. I asume you are an open source developer. So, what the heck is the sense behind Ohloh for you? I mean, except the kudo thingy, which can propably boost your ego? At first, you get the chance to have all your project contributions aggregated in a central place. This is nice to look at. But beside that, it can also give potential employers a nice overview of your skills and engagements. Not only about your experience level with certain programming languages, environments and tools, but also about your way of working in respect to documentation and continuity and about experiences with tools. Furthermore you will receive feedback from your users and possibly an overview about other projects, your users make use of, for possible interaction or integration with these.

Good, I hope you identified with at least 1 of the above described people? You did not? Hmmm... then at least Ohloh can give you a nice impression about how much worth open source already is and a cool example how a cool Web 2.0 application looks like. ;)

I would appreciate if you try out Ohloh and possibly give me some hints on how you see things, here on my blog. Thanks in advance!

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