If you're active in the open source world, Ohloh probably knows you. The Bellevue, Wash., software company has a database of some 70,000 developers working on nearly 11,000 of the world's major open source projects.
After a year of building up its community of open source developers, Ohloh (whose backers include former Microsoft big wig Paul Maritz) has begun trying to cash in on a database that attempts to measure the productivity of open source projects -- and evaluate the developers working on them.
Is Ohloh measuring developers in a useful way?
Ohloh's developer evaluation approach raises a significant question: Is there an accurate way beyond word of mouth to measure the importance and skill of a developer?
"It's intellectually interesting, but I'm skeptical," says Savio Rodrigues, an InfoWorld contributor (and IBM project manager) active in the open source community. His concern: "I'm not sure the rankings are really useful."
Ohloh ranks contributors by measuring the number of "commits" contributed by developers, as well as "kudos" received from other developers in the community. Commits are the lines of code actually added to the code base of a particular project.
If you are interested in the Eclipse platform project, for example, a search of the database returns a list of 186 contributors. The top developer -- who uses the alias "Darin" -- has more than 8,000 commits over six years. Drilling deeper, you can see the length of time he has used various programming languages, the number of lines of code he has changed, and other information.
That could be useful, but it's not clear whether Darin wrote all his commits -- perhaps they are the work of other developers he has cleared to enter contributions into the code base, says Rodrigues.
Critics say that it's questionable whether counting lines of code -- whatever their source -- is a meaningful measure. Verbose code would count more than elegant but simple code. The kudos that Ohlo also tracks help balance the commits metric, but still.
Ohloh co-founder and CEO Scott Collison says he's aware of the issue about commits and the authorship of code. "We understand the limitations of the data, but commits are generally uniform across a project." It’s rare, he says, that the data would greatly understate or overstate someone’s real contributions.