A study of Online Discussions in an Open-Source Software Community: Reconstructing Thematic Coherence and Argumentation from Quotation Practices
Springer London, Dordrecht Amsterdam
This paper presents an analysis of online discussions in Open Source Software (OSS) design. The objective of our work is twofold. First, our research aims to understand and model the dynamics of OSS design that take place in mailing list exchanges. Second, our more long term objective is to develop tools to assist OSS developers to extract and reconstruct design relevant information from previous discussions. We show how quotation practices can be used to locate design relevant data in discussion archives. OSS developers use quotation as a mechanism to maintain the discursive context. To retrace thematic coherence in the online discussions of a major OSS project, Python, we follow how messages are linked through quotation practices. We compare our quotation-based analysis with a more conventional, threadbased analysis of the (reply-to) links between messages. The advantages of a quotationbased analysis over a thread-based analysis are outlined. Our approach provides a means to analyze argumentation and design rationales and promises a novel means to discover design relevant information in the archives of online discussions. Our analysis reveals also the links between the social structure and elements in the discussion space and how it shapes influence in the design process.