How does one start a SourceForge Project and get volunteers to help?
December 3, 2005 11:55 PM   Subscribe

How does one start a SourceForge Project and get volunteers to help?

I have a good idea for a set of tools for building a certain type of website.

There's no very complex technology involved: Perl, a single module which can be installed without dependencies, and access to a MySQL database. OK two modules if you include DBI.

Let's say it's something like Movable Type, only not for blogs.

But I'm not that smart, I'd be the first one to admit it. My code isn't very modular or portable, my database scheme is pretty amateurish, and my security is of the "through obscurity" kind. In other words, my code works for me, and does something a lot of people would probably like, but there's no way I could release it to the world.

So, could I just start a sourceforge project and say "who wants to help?"?

Can such a project be started from scratch, without much code? Would I get any volunteers? Would they be good volunteers? Who would be the arbiter of what's good code anyway? Should I try and get some halfway-decent code into shape and start from that point, asking for volunteers to improve, test and security-proof? Or can I start with the general idea and ask for people to help code it pretty much from scratch?
posted by AmbroseChapel to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
You can always try putting your code on there with the intention (and accompanying message) that you will update it on a modular basis. That, or state what you've stated here. I don't think you absolutely need code to start with, but it might be a good idea just to have a starting point.

It seems that other projects have specific coding guidelines. Maybe you can just borrow their's to start with.

As far as getting people, try forums or newsgroups. Metafilter projects might also be a good start. There's thousands of willing potential programmers (especially for the technologies you've stated -- try the mailing list).
posted by spiderskull at 12:19 AM on December 4, 2005

Couldn't you do it with an existing framework such as Rails, Turbogears or Django? You'd have the security and DB interface for free and could write only the high-level scripts and templates yourself. If the application is good, you'd get an extra boost of promotion from the people who try to push that particular framework.
posted by springload at 12:25 AM on December 4, 2005

The most successful projects of this kind tend to start off with some working software, or at least something that's partially implemented or fleshed out. That creates enough of a spark to get other people fixing bugs, designing new features, and refining code.

If you're worried about the quality of your code as a starting point, your best bet might be to team up with a programmer on a private basis, and get something working, which you can then make public on Sourceforge.

There's a chapter from Eric Raymond's The Cathedral and The Bazaar which is relevant here: Necessary Preconditions for the Bazaar Style.
posted by chrismear at 12:28 AM on December 4, 2005

check your inbox.
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:15 AM on December 4, 2005

1. Create an account on SourceForge (it's free)

2. Register a project (also free, but subject to approval by a human, which apparently can take up to 2 business days)

3. Once your project is registered, approach the Perl community (ie, as others have mentioned, email lists, usenet newsgroups, forums etc) with a subject line of something like 'Seeking volunteers for Perl open source project'.

In your message include:

A brief description of the goal of the project, and what need you feel it addresses that would be of value to the Perl community.

An explanation that you have proof-of-concept code available (at least, it sounds like you do from reading your question) but that your coding skills are currently not at a level where you are able to produce distribution-quality code.

Include a link to the home page of the project you registered with SourceForge and invite anyone interested to a) register with the project and b) email you directly for off-list discussion.

Invite feedback regarding the goal of the project.
posted by planetthoughtful at 1:37 AM on December 4, 2005

SForge also has a 'Help Wanted' system.

The other thing that I would recommend is to get an account at Advogato and journal your efforts into getting the project going. There are some big guns at Advo and it's good publicity.
posted by unixrat at 7:22 AM on December 4, 2005

Just from personal experience - my sourceforge project has been around for 5 years and is moderately popular.

I didn't post any Help Wanted ads, but within that 5 years, I've gotten about a dozen patches, half a dozen bug reports, about a dozen requests for help, a person who packaged .deb builds but has now disappeared, a person who offered to write documentation but turned out to just ask a bunch of really really stupid questions and hasn't done or started anything, and one decent developer who does some work sometimes.

So basically I hear from less than 1% of the people that download it.

My project is aimed at developers, and I posted it when it was fully functional.
posted by lpctstr; at 8:59 AM on December 4, 2005

Lpctstr;'s experience matches mine on a bunch of projects. It sounds as though you think SourceForge is going to solve a social problem -- finding volunteers -- but that's not really what SourceForge is about, marketing notwithstanding.

I don't know of anyone who considers SourceForge a developer's network; it's a buch of independent projects that are using a set of free tools so they don't have to implement them all themselves.
posted by mendel at 10:18 AM on December 4, 2005

just find some people who might need your code and that's all

start the project at sf right now, it allows people to see your idea/work and get in touch
posted by suni at 10:29 AM on December 4, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your help and suggestions.

I don't know if there's any one particular question which is the "right" or "best" answer but I appreciate all the contributions.

Some replies:

Couldn't you do it with an existing framework such as Rails, Turbogears or Django?

I could, but I'm cynical about them, and I don't want to learn Ruby right now. I am confident that the combination of Perl, DBI and HTML::Template is rock solid, and there are lots of good developers with experience with them. Plus just about every web hosting account worth its salt already has Perl/DBI/SQL and the same is just not true of Ruby. I should probably do it in PHP, as it's supposed to be used by amateurs, but I'm obsessive about the separation of code and HTML.

include:[...] what need you feel it addresses that would be of value to the Perl community.

It doesn't, any more than Movable Type does. It's a good idea for another sphere entirely, which I think should use Perl for its implementation.

It sounds as though you think SourceForge is going to solve a social problem -- finding volunteers -- but that's not really what SourceForge is about

Well, that's the basis of my question really, not my assumption. And if I ever did think that, I no longer think it now!

check your inbox.

Writing to you now.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:42 PM on December 4, 2005

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