Overcoming Social Barriers When Contributing to Open Source Software Projects

Igor Steinmacher, Marco Gerosa, Tayana U. Conte, David F. Redmiles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


An influx of newcomers is critical to the survival, long-term success, and continuity of many Open Source Software (OSS) community-based projects. However, newcomers face many barriers when making their first contribution, leading in many cases to dropouts. Due to the collaborative nature of community-based OSS projects, newcomers may be susceptible to social barriers, such as communication breakdowns and reception issues. In this article, we report a two-phase study aimed at better understanding social barriers faced by newcomers. In the first phase, we qualitatively analyzed the literature and data collected from practitioners to identify barriers that hinder newcomers’ first contribution. We designed a model composed of 58 barriers, including 13 social barriers. In the second phase, based on the barriers model, we developed FLOSScoach, a portal to support newcomers making their first contribution. We evaluated the portal in a diary-based study and found that the portal guided the newcomers and reduced the need for communication. Our results provide insights for communities that want to support newcomers and lay a foundation for building better onboarding tools. The contributions of this paper include identifying and gathering empirical evidence of social barriers faced by newcomers; understanding how social barriers can be reduced or avoided by using a portal that organizes proper information for newcomers (FLOSScoach); presenting guidelines for communities and newcomers on how to reduce or avoid social barriers; and identifying new streams of research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)247-290
Number of pages44
JournalComputer Supported Cooperative Work
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Apr 15 2019


  • Beginners
  • Challenges
  • Difficulties
  • Entry
  • Joining
  • New contributor
  • Newbies
  • Newcomers
  • Onboarding
  • Online communities
  • Open source software
  • Qualitative study
  • Social barriers
  • Socialization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science


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