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Is Benevolent Dictatorship The Best Way To Grow An Open Source Project?

Tags: open-source, opinion, software-engineering, development, project-management

I’ve noticed a pattern with open source projects where one person starts the ball rolling and puts together a core system, then suddenly there are many others involved. This video, created wiht the wonderful open-source Gource utility, shows the history of the Linux Kernel, 1992 – 2012, and runs for a total of almost 3 hours. For the first 19 seconds, Linus Torvalds is a very busy bee, then there is a brief pause and *POW* lots of ‘worker bees’ swarming all over the project.

If anyone can be described as a ‘benevolent dictator’ then it is probably Linus Torvalds, and I’m not entirely sure about the ‘benevolent’ part <grin>.

I’ve tried bootstrapping an open-source project ‘democratically’ and even though I thought I’d set pretty clear goals, what I found was that everyone wanted to build something slightly different and it is impossible to get agreement and move forward.

I’m interested in hearing from anyone who has bootstrapped a successful multi-developer open source project. What’s the best way of getting it off the ground so that everyone has a common vision? Is it to do as Linus Torvalds seems to have done – produce the first version yourself and then open it up to contributors – or is there another way?

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