Linux Foundation Research Finds Collaboration, Alignment Key to Managing Fragmentation in Open Source

SAN FRANCISCO (Jan. 30, 2023) — The Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization enabling mass innovation through open source, today announced the release of the LF Research publication “Enabling Global Collaboration: How Open Source Leaders are Confronting the Challenges of Fragmentation.”

The research informs understanding of whether—and how—fragmentation in the open source community is impeding open source progress and ways to overcome challenges.

“Two decades of open collaboration have fostered unrivaled innovation with 70% to 90% of most modern application stacks now consisting of open source software,” said Jim Zemlin, executive director for the Linux Foundation. “Industries, consumers, and societal systems today depend on software that is built by a global community. To continue this tremendous innovation, we need to understand concerns about whether fragmentation in ecosystems could undermine functions vital to a thriving community, while being of benefit to others, and in which ways. This research will inform our understanding and future decisions.”

The research was produced in partnership with the Eclipse Foundation, LF Europe, LF AI and Data, and LF Networking, and sponsored by Futurewei. It draws on experience from leaders working with communities to support collaboration among developers and end users around the world. The research draws on interviews with open source leaders to understand the sources of fragmentation. It examines fragmentation in the development of open source solutions, the integration of diverse contributors from various regions of the world, and the governance of open source communities, including the role of foundations in safeguarding infrastructure.

The report concludes that managing fragmentation includes forging greater alignment between open source projects, strengthening inter-foundation collaboration, and harnessing open source maturity models to help identify robust code libraries and components. Specific key findings include:

Fragmentation challenges occur in developing open source solutions, but a decentralized ecosystem will always have some duplication and fragmentation. Inefficient allocation of resources may occur, but efforts to reduce fragmentation could stifle competition and innovation and kill “the open source goose that laid the golden egg,” wrote the author, Anthony D. Williams, founder and president of the research firm the DEEP Centre and co-author of Wikinomics and Macrowikinomics.

Fragmentation can increase costs and complexity for consumers and vendors of open source solutions. It can also reduce the impact of having a large community collaborate around a shared platform or standard. Fragmentation is highest in the early stages of a technology’s development.

The open source community is increasingly global, but language, culture, and geopolitics remain barriers to participation. Failure to address diversity and inclusion will curtail access to talent and ingenuity. More needs to be done to promote inclusion.

Techno-nationalism threatens open source collaboration. The best antidote: transparent open source development protocols.

Foundations can help align open source projects with similar objectives without “picking winners.”

“Decentralized innovation and effective leadership is integral to the long-term viability and success of open source projects,” said Yue Chen of Futurewei. “This research is vital to informing our work moving forward.”

For more information, see the full report here.