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OpenThreads: Visualizing Open Communications

NOTE: This project has been DISCONTINUED. Feel free to contact the author if you have questions about the codebase or original project.

OpenThreads was a program for analysis and visualization of mailing lists. The tools included here make it possible to parse the conversations from pipermail and mailman lists into participants, messages, and threads for visualization and analysis. Our goal was to create an open platform that everyone can use to analyze their communities, with a goal of provoking conversation around how open our communities are and how to continue to improve upon the quality and diversity of that openness.


Open digital spaces claim by their very nature that all are welcome to participate. But anyone who has witnessed the snub of a newbie, cringed at the tantrums of leaders, jousted for their technical supremacy, or simply hesitated... with that first post. In other words -- all of us -- know that these digital spaces are not always the utopia of collaboration. While the doors are technically open to anyone with access, many communities are ranked structures which require a pledge process to prove one’s merit to join.

In every context we encounter, we carry our personal experiences as biases to that context. Our digital communities, like our offline worlds-- are fashioned with these same complexities and biases, and embed them in our language and dialog. For those who develop, advocate or use open source software -- these dialogs are important. The technologies we build are not distinct from the conversations we create around them. Our conversations are encoded in the technologies we build. If these communities are not inclusive and open, then how truly do the tools we build match the values we claim to uphold?

As members of open source communities ourselves, we have seen and heard of instances of discrimination and disrespect that lead to disengagement of existing participants as well as inhibit new potential members from joining. OpenThreads is a platform for the analysis and visualization of our online conversations -- our mailing lists. The platform contains tools for parsing and visualizing pipermail and mailman lists into participants, messages, and threads. There are as many questions as answers -- Who has a voice? What does it mean to participate? How does that reflect on the health of our work? And what can we do to hold ourselves accountable in creating an even more open community for participation? Our goal is that by using common tools to understand our patterns across communities, we will be able to identify and change the conversations so that digital communities can live up to the open, inclusive ideals to which they purport.

How to use OpenThreads

Basic Instructions for stable version


OpenThreads: The Community of OpenStreetMap Mailing List - State of the Map 2013

The Threads of OSM Discussions: Are the Doors Really Open?

OpenThreads: The Community of Mailing Lists at FOSS4G-NA

Research Notes

Some of the research notes from the study...

Coding Open Threads

Links that might be useful


DISCONTINUED - A python list-serv parser to help gain an understanding of participation, diversity, and communication style.






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