Following and leadership in Github, and their influence on developers’ actions

Project Details

  • Project Overview
    This project studied the motivation behind following or not following users on GitHub and how popular users influence their followers. We used a mixed-method approach including a survey of 803 GitHub users and repository analysis to understand following, influence and leadership of popular users on GitHub.
  • SEGAL Members Involved
    Kelly Blincoe, Jyoti Sheoran, Eirini Kalliamvakou, Sean Goggins (University of Missouri), Eva Petakovic (University of Missouri), Daniela Damian

Project Description

‘Following’ is one of Github’s social features that allows a GitHub user to follow another user to receive notifications of that user’s activity in their feed. We investigated how frequently this feature is being utilized, the reasons for its use, and how users are influenced by those they follow. We focused our study on popular users (those with many followers) and sought to understand when and how popular users influence their followers, as well as the impact of following on social structure and leadership in OSS projects. Our research methodology included mining the GHTorrent dataset to extract information about GitHub users, their following relationships and their activity on public projects, and to quantitatively assess the influence of popular users on their followers activities. Complementarily we conducted a survey to identify the motivation behind following or not following GitHub users. We found that GitHub users follow others to get updates on activity, discover new projects and trends, learn, socialize, collaborate and out of general interest. We also found that popular users do influence their followers by guiding them to new projects. This influence indicates a new type of leadership. As a user’s popularity increases, so does their rate of influence, yet the same is not true for a popular users’ rate of contribution, suggesting that popularity can be more important than contribution in influencing others.

Sheoran J., Blincoe K., Kalliamvakou E., Damian, D. and J. Ell, Understanding “watchers” in Github, Proc. of the 11th Conference on Mining Software Repositories (MSR), 2014

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