Does Popularity = Success?

Does the current popularity of an open source project, automatically mean that it is successful?   It can but how do we define successful for an open source project?

Just because a project is popular does not necessarily mean that it is successful.  It just means at that point in time and duration it is also getting a lot of attention.   I’ve been involved with a wide variety of open source projects over the last 15 years.  Several I’ve started. Several I’ve participated in from both as a community member and as a committer.   Some I would say have been popular at one point or another, other’s I would say never hit the “High School” popularity meter thresh hold.

Popularity is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s dictionary as, “state of being liked, enjoyed, accepted, or done by a large number of people : the quality or state of being popular”.

Successful is defined as “having the correct or desired result.”   So being successful does not necessarily equal popularity.   A successful open source project is one that has met its desired goals and objectives.   One of them could be, to become popular, and blogged about, and tweeted about constantly, but the winds of popularity change at a moments notice.  Success lasts for as long as the project is meeting its stated goals.

Success is defined by the commiters and the community that forms around the project.  Is it meeting its user’s needs?  Is it growing its user community and committer base?  Is it adapting and changing to meet knew requirements?   These are just some of the criteria that a project can be measured on to be successful.  Yes, popularity can be one criteria, but it should not be the sole deciding factor.

We need to be careful on tying success to popularity alone.   There are many projects out there that I would consider successful that have never hit the popularity threshold.  Those projects may not be used by Millions of people, but they have built a community around their project, and provide value to that community.   How many people are using it, or number of companies that have adopted it, should not take away from the success of the project if it has met its objectives.

So success is going to mean different things to different people.  There is no one way to measure if project is successful.  To me, if your project even gets a handful of people forming a community around it, you are already successful.

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4 Responses to Does Popularity = Success?

  1. Ian Bull says:

    I think it completely depends on the purpose of your project. If you are building an open source tool (or runtime) to hopefully sell Enterprise level tools/support, then you want your project to be used by as many people as possible. If you only get 0.001% of the users to pay, then you might need your tool in hands of 1,000,000 people simply to run your business (thus it must be popular).

    However, if you are building an open source solution to help share the cost of a non-core aspect of your business with like-minded companies, then you might not care if anybody (except for you and the few other companies that are working with you) even knows about the project.

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