Data Visualization: ‘Life’ of Open Source Projects

Part of the “art” of communicating IT and business abstractions – technical challenges, project roadmaps, budget performance, customer relationships, IT effectiveness – is landing on the right visualization. A picture tells a thousand words, and if you can draw the picture well, your target audience will grasp these concepts quickly, and (potentially) get insights that were otherwise difficult to attain.

I have a large backlog of web links to point to, posts to write that I’ll probably start cutting into, now that I’ve seen this latest bit of visualization … via Slashdot

A student at UC Davis has created some stunning visualizations of open source software contributions, including Eclipse, Python, Apache httpd and Postgres. From the website: “This visualization, called code_swarm, shows the history of commits in a software project. A commit happens when a developer makes changes to the code or documents and transfers them into the central project repository. Both developers and files are represented as moving elements. When a developer commits a file, it lights up and flies towards that developer. Files are colored according to their purpose, such as whether they are source code or a document. If files or developers have not been active for a while, they will fade away. A histogram at the bottom keeps a reminder of what has come before.”

As a developer, I can draw connections between the narration of significant events and the “flow” of objects. I’ve used these tools/platforms for some time now, and the story told by the animation connects nicely with my understanding of these tools’ “personalities” – gives some insight on how they “grew up”.

Python: This one fits my understanding of a typical open source project; lots of work by one primary, maybe one or two secondary developers, with fits and starts, bursts of activity. Over a period of time, a limited number of additional authors contribute, and things slowly expand until critical mass is hit, and Python is released to the public. Then, a flurry of activity as the popularity takes off …


Apache: I was fascinated to see this project start off as an exercise in documentation – and stay like that for the longest time (code doesn’t appear until about a third of the way through the movie). Like Python, Apache is a focused platform/application, and had a fairly concentrated core of developers and modules – unlike …


Eclipse: I watched this movie first, but it belongs last in the To-View list. Eclipse is a wide-ranging platform with a large number of modules/functions – and a correspondingly large number of developers. It’s amazing to think that the overall project could maintain such a high-quality, unified vision.


I’d love to see the Linux video …

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.