Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges that many open source projects face is getting contributors.
With the great demand for programmers nowadays and the huge number of projects that they can choose from, the chances of them choosing your project over the rest can be slim. But there are things you can do to improve your odds.
Make Important Information Clear
First of all, you need to be clear when it comes to primary project information, specifically: what the software can do, what and who it’s for, where it can be used and what makes it different from others. This may seem simple enough, but for many experienced developers providing this information readily can be easily ignored or forgotten.
Another thing you should make clear are your project contributing guidelines. You need to clearly identify the ways and process by which people can start participating in your project. Make sure that you provide a list of well-defined tasks that any newbie can easily start with. This should also include any standards you may have in coding or formatting. This will make it easier to get new contributions and eliminate any misunderstandings right from the start.
Invest in Automation
To reduce friction when getting new contributions, invest in automation. Automating certain tasks such as style checking and development environment setup greatly reduces pain points for you and potential contributors.
Make Communication Accessible
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: communication is vital in open source projects and clear, accessible communication mediums are one of the key things that potential contributors look for in a project. These mediums assure them of a way to inquire and be heard should they decide to participate in the project.
Make sure your communication lines are flexible and accessible. Do not limit yourself to only one medium, such as IRC as this may exclude a large number of people from different timezones, or people who may have other priorities such as their day jobs.
Present Quality Code and Documentation
While programmers will often choose projects to participate in based on their interests, one other major factor that can affect their choice is the quality of the code and documentation. Even if a project falls within a programmer’s interests, there’s a big chance it will be ignored if it is presented poorly. Avoid this by making sure that you have well-written, well-structured code and quality documentation.
Recognize and Encourage Participation
Encouraging participation must be done often and enthusiastically. Recognizing good contributions is a great way to encourage more of them. If there are unacceptable codes submitted, you must still respond kindly and mentor the contributor in a constructive manner. Responding negatively will not encourage contributors to produce better code, but only push them to look for a different project to participate in.
As challenging as it may be at times, getting contributors is a necessary aspect of open source development, and one that you can achieve. With the right steps, you can secure for yourself consistent contributors who will help sustain and develop your project.