MindTouch releases list of influential voices in open source

Off the Beat: Bruce Byfield's Blog

Mar 17, 2010 GMT
Bruce Byfield

If you want to spread information about an open source topic, who are the people who can help you? MindTouch, a producer of wiki-like solutions for business, has the answer in the form of a list of the top fifty most influential voices in open source -- those whose blogs and microblogs are most likely to be picked up and echoed by others.

The list is a follow-up to MindTouch's list of Most Influential People in Open Source released in October 2009, in which fifty executives of open source companies voted on the most influential people in their community.

Talking about the previous list, Aaron Fulkerson, MindTouch's CEO,says, "I didn't expect it to be so well-received, nor so controversial. It got a ton of traffic and created a lot of dialog around it. We were talking about the feedback, good and bad, about it and thought, if that measures people who are the most influential as determined by executives, how about we take a look at who are the most powerful broadcasters in open source?"

The result is the current list of The Most Powerful Voices in Open Source. Mark Fidelman, Mindtouch's vice president of sales, explains, "We set out to determine reach by examining the number of followers and buzz an individual had on sites like Twitter and Google. We then needed to determine the impact an individual had with their subscribers and followers. We asked questions like: How often were they retweeted? How much buzz is created around their blog posts, tweets, and other messages? How often is the individual referenced in the blogosphere? Were they cited by influential people?"

The results were then tallied according to how much influence people had compared to an ordinary person, who was given a broadcast rating of 1.0.

The results and their limitations

The list is topped by Tim O'Reilly, the founder of O'Reilly Media. Often credited with coining the phrase "Web 2.0" to describe social media, O'Reilly received a score of 1,400,659, far outpacing Linux founder Linus Torvalds at 25,823 and open source advocate Chris Messina at 14,776, and former Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz at 10,046. Rounding off the top five was GNOME and Mono founder Miguel de Izaca at 7,159.

Others on the list include bloggers Glyn Moody and Matt Asay at 7th and 8th position, Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon at 13th, Microsoft open source strategist Sam Ramji at thirty-two, and MindTouch's Fulkerson at 46th.

To some degree, the list reflects individual fame or notoriety. Fulkerson suggests, for example, that de Izaca scores high both because "he still gets a lot of halo effect from the GNOME project" and because "he's so controversial because of Mono," with at least some of his perceived broadcasting power being due to the frequency with which anti-Mono activists mention his name.

Mostly, however, the list reflects the skill and frequency with which those mentioned use social media such as blogs and Identi.ca. "That's what it's measuring: the volume and density of what people say on the topic of open source," Fulkerson says. "What we found was that, when Tim O'Reilly blogs on something, what he says gets picked up by other people."

By contrast, Linus Torvalds rarely blogs, and tends to discuss personal concerns when he does. However, when he does discuss technical matters, such as his recent endorsement of Google's Nexus One phone, his views are widely reported and discussed.

Others of undeniable influence in open source, fare less well on the list because of their relative lack of involvement in social media. Larry Augustin, who topped MindTouch's polling of executives, did not even rank in this new list because he only participates lightly in social media. Similarly, Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation and Mark Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu and Canonical, did not make the list, mostly because, although both have blogs, they post new entries infrequently.

For much the same reason, the list is slanted heavily towards open source, with free software advocates like Richard M. Stallman of the Free Software Foundation or Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center absent, neither of whom make use of social media.

Another limitation is that, although a number of developers made the list, many developers known for their coding skills or project leadership did not. Developers, as Fulkerson points out, tend to communicate during their daily work on mailing lists or IRC channels, neither of which were considered in compiling the rankings.

Annual events

Although the first version of the list is just released, Fulkerson is already talking about continuing MindTouch's surveys of influential people. "We will make it an annual event," he says, talking about the broadcasting links, adding, "We also plan to continue our survey of the commercial open source vendors."

Fulkerson is also considering a third survey to "capture who the influential people are on the engineering side." He is still considering the exact form such a survey would take, but suggests that it might consist of taking some sample responses from selected development projects, then tallying the results.

As for the other omissions in the survey, Fulkerson comments, ""Maybe what we should take away from this story is that we need people to represent [free software and the Linux Foundation] points of view."

Meanwhile, the list, its rankings and exclusions, are certain to make their own contribution to blogs and microblogging.

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