Published in The 2023 ACM 31th Joint European Software Engineering Conference and Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering, 2023
Although the open source model bears many advantages in software development, open source projects are always hard to sustain. Previous research on open source sustainability mainly focuses on projects that have already reached a certain level of maturity (e.g., with communities, releases, and downstream projects). However, limited attention is paid to the development of (sustainable) open source projects in their infancy, and we believe an understanding of early sustainability determinants is crucial for project initiators, incubators, newcomers, and users. In this paper, we aim to explore the relationship between early participation factors and long-term project sustainability. We leverage a novel methodology that measures the early participation of 290,255 GitHub projects during the first three months with reference to the Blumberg model, trains an XGBoost model to predict project’s two-year sustained activity, and interprets the trained model using LIME. We quantitatively show that early participants have a positive effect on project’s future sustained activity if they have prior experience in OSS project incubation and demonstrate concentrated focus and steady commitment. Participation from non-code contributors and detailed contribution documentation also promote project’s sustained activity. Compared with individual projects, building a community that consists of more experienced core developers and more active peripheral developers is important for organizational projects. This study provides unique insights into the incubation and recognition of sustainable open source projects, and our interpretable prediction approach can also offer guidance to open source project initiators and newcomers.