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Managing an Open Source Project for DotNetNuke

A first-person perspective from idea to code complete

We received about 10 submissions for the Forum Project. I wasn't really sure how many people we should have on the team, so I took the approach of accepting the eight applicants who seemed qualified. I e-mailed those whom I accepted and sent them the documents required to be a member of a DotNetNuke Project (an NDA and a Contributor License Agreement), and informed them that they were on a probationary period. The probationary period functioned to avoid their announcing publicly until we received all necessary agreements. Out of the eight, two never returned the agreements and two more resigned.

Managing an Open Source Project Team
It is my belief that regardless of whether your project is big or small, managing a development team in a commercial environment and managing one in an open source project are very similar. There are a few things, however, which are distinctly different. I think the aspect that is the most obvious, as well as the most difficult, is that you are managing volunteers.

In the commercial environment there is accountability. If someone is given a task, that person must complete it within a reasonable amount of time and if not, he or she must account for the reasons why it was not done on time. If the person fails to deliver repeatedly, there are some consequences that he or she might suffer. In an open source project, what consequences can you really dish out to volunteers? The only one I can think of is removing them from the team, but what do they really loose? So far I have been fortunate that all my team members contribute, but I am still unsure how I would handle it if things had gone differently.

Another one of those differences is communication. Everyone in the core team and in my projects speaks English. It may not be everyone's native tongue, but so far it has not been a barrier. Even with everyone speaking English there are still communication issues. Since we have no budget for traveling or phone conversations, it seemed best to use chat sessions for team meetings. This proved to be difficult because at our first chat we had one team member online at 8 p.m. Thursday and another online at 10 a.m. Friday. This wasn't so bad, except for those members who were online at 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. for a two-hour session.

The last major difference I have found between the two is how you would decide who does what. In the commercial environment I normally ask people to do things and based on their results, I let them continue doing so or replace them with someone else. I am not exactly sure why, but in the open source environment it just doesn't seem to work this way. So far, I have just let everyone do what he feels he is best at. This seems to be working because everyone is getting a better understanding of his module and the projects are moving forward faster than before. I do worry about this from time to time though, because I think I will eventually have to address it.

Despite all of the differences, there are many similarities between the two environments. One is you have a set of tools and have to get everyone adjusted to using those tools. The usage may not happen as frequently in the open source environment, but I think it is more than enough to keep the project organized. Procedure is another thing that is common between the two. I think this is even more important in the open source projects because it helps fill the communication gap.

Before becoming involved with the DotNetNuke Web Application Framework, one of the things I heard about open source projects is that they are a thankless effort. I have found this to be far from the truth. Just as with anything else, there is some negativity involved. In my experience however, this has been almost negligible compared to the praise received. This praise, combined with what I learn by doing this, makes it well worth the effort.

The Future
It has been roughly nine months since these Projects began. To the community, it may not seem as though much was accomplished. From my perspective, these Projects have come a long way. The previous release of the DNN Forum Project had over 35,000 downloads in only a three-month span. Now with the support of a team, features can be added, bugs can be fixed, and time between releases can be reduced. This increased efficiency, along with the implementation of continuous integration, should lead to more users and a better end result.

More Stories By Chris Paterra

Chris Paterra is is the lead developer and project manager working on a variety of different DotNetNuke projects for client and internal use at AppTheory in Atlanta, GA. He is part of the DotNetNuke core team and is project lead of the Forum and Gallery sub-projects.

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Most Recent Comments
Carmen E. 02/06/06 09:39:56 PM EST

Hi.
I'm really thankful to the team of people that lead and development Dotnetnuke Project. One of my task ending last year was to develop a corporative intranet in short time including particular modules development by us(employees attendance & vacation system). When i found DOtnetnuke project, it made everything easier, intranet's schema was made, just need to setting up and add the necessary modules. I'm really interested reading forums about this open source project and i'll continue improve my development techniques.
Good Luck!!All effort worths it :)

Keith Norfleet 12/29/05 10:12:24 AM EST

I would be interested in helping out. How do I get on board?

Enterprise Open Source Magazine News Desk 12/26/05 05:04:14 PM EST

In December 2004 it was decided that DotNetNuke would break out its existing core modules into separate Projects so that they could be enhanced, released, and supported independently from the core Web Application Framework. It was further decided that some additional modules would also be added as official Projects to provide an increased level of richness to the platform. The first modules that we determined were going to be added were the TTT Forum and TTT Gallery, authored by Tam Tran Minh of TTT Corporation. I was already working closely with Tam on these modules, and I volunteered to co-lead the development of these Projects and to help morph them into modules that take full advantage of the DotNetNuke Web Application Framework.