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"Open source" is a broad term that encompasses many different types of projects. There is a wide range of open source approaches, and sometimes it helps to think through how your open source approach matches your goals, resources, and environment.

We often see "open source project" used as a catch-all term to describe very different projects that share only the fact that their source code is distributed under an open source license. We don't have a common vocabulary to discuss open source development in ways that take account of important differences between various types of open source project.

This report is a first step in providing that common vocabulary. OTS prepared the first edition for Mozilla in the first half of 2018; we are currently working on a second edition with Mozilla. The report catalogs a number of open source archetypes we have observed through watching many projects over a couple of decades. We have found these archetypes to be a useful resource when crafting strategy, weighing tradeoffs, and committing support to open source endeavors.

We hope it is useful to you as you design open source initiatives, weigh tradeoffs in strategy, and pick metrics to track success. The archetypes we list are useful comparison points for anybody trying to maximize the benefits of their open source investment.

A Word of Caution

The boundaries between these archetypes are fuzzy. One shouldn't expect a real-world project to fit perfectly into exactly one archetype. The archetypes are not a taxonomy: a project may fit multiple archetypes at once, and we had heated discussions on how to characterize some projects. Many successful projects change archetypes over their lifecycle.

How to Contribute

This report is version 1, with version 2 currently under development. We have been collecting notes for an update, and we welcome input. We know many people will read this and have views worth adding to the conversation; please share those views with us.

There are two main ways to contribute to this report. First, there are the usual mechanisms available through GitHub. Please file issues, send pull requests, and review pending contributions. The same distributed collaboration mechanisms we use to build software can be used to edit a text document. The second way to contribute is to send us feedback and suggestions via email to archetypes {_AT_} That email will influence our thinking but won't make it into the public discussion unless it results in us filing a ticket or making a change to the document on GitHub.

How to Build the PDF

This report is written in LaTeX, and uses the OTS Doctools system to generate the PDF output. Once you have the ots-doctools infrastructure installed properly, running make should just work, if you're on a Unix-like system that has GNU Make. We don't have experience building this on Windows, but if you do, please let us know how it goes and how we can improve these instructions.

License, Copyright, Publication, and Maintenance

This document was originally authored by Karl Fogel, James Vasile, and Cecilia Donnelly of Open Tech Strategies as a work-for-hire under contract to Mozilla Corporation. It is Copyright 2018 Mozilla Foundation and Open Tech Strategies and licensed to you under CC-BY-SA. To provide attribution, please link to this repository.

Open Tech Strategies performs ongoing maintenance of this document and repository, with the support and participation of Mozilla. Mozilla reviews drafts, but does not exercise editorial control over this repository.

Mozilla published a graphically enhanced PDF version of the release of document for public distribution (see Patrick Finch's post announcing it). Earlier revisions of this LaTeX were the source for that PDF's content, and can be found in this repo's history. The current repository is the master text for purposes of ongoing maintenance. While we are working on it, anyone can build intermediate working PDFs from this repository.


A field guide to open source project archetypes




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