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3.3. Qualities of a Community

Each FOSS community has a rich set of defining qualities. Understanding these qualities is essential to evalutating and participating in the community:
Qualities of a Community
What does the community want to achieve? The stated goals may be broader than the actual interest and focus of the community. For example, a group may state that they're developing a Geographic Information System (GIS), which is a broad goal -- but the actual software may be focused on just one particular use of GIS.
Maturity and History
Is the project new or old? Young communities may not have developed effective procedures and rhythms, or may not yet have attracted contributors other than developers (such as documentation writers, artists, testers, and marketers). On the other hand, older communities may have plateaued with a stable, complete product (good) or stagnated (bad). Some of the oldest FOSS communities, such as the X Windows community, have gone through multiple periods of rapid development, stable releases, stagnation, and rejuvenation.
Type of Openness
The term open source is broadly applied, but there are many different types and degrees of openness. Some projects are open in a lob-the-software-over-the-wall sense: the code has been released under an open source license, but no community has formed around it; periodically, a new source tarball comes flying over the wall to play with, and it's not obvious how to contribute improvements back to the main source of the code -- or if it's even possible at all. Some projects have an active community but a strict management hierarchy anchored by a dictator-for-life or impenetrable core committee, while others have an openness that extends to their management structure. There are also projects where the core source code is tightly controlled, but are extremely open in peripheral areas such translations, documentation, and community support.
Commercial ties
Is there a company (or companies) sponsoring the project? Some sponsors provide only resources (funding, equipment, infrastructure), while others provide technology, legal protection, people, or some combination. It's important to understand how much influence the sponsors have in the overall direction of the project, and whether the community can continue if the sponsor pulls out (or fails).
Does the community operate as a whole, or does it operate as a collection of subgroups? Some large communities have formally-defined subgroups, while others have communities that form, expand, contract, and dissolve in an organic way as needed. Sub-groups may also be defined along technological, use-case, geographic, or functional lines.
Each community requires and focuses on different sets of skills. In some cases, a community could benefit from having new contributors with skill sets that are not currently represented or even recognized as being needed.
Mentoring and Training
Some communities grow in a haphazard way, while others have clearly-defined, simple on-ramps with purposeful training and mentorship programs.