Exploring community smells in open-source: an automated approach

Damian Andrew Andrew Tamburri, Fabio Palomba (Corresponding author), Rick Kazman

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    32 Citations (Scopus)
    224 Downloads (Pure)


    Software engineering is now more than ever a community effort. Its success often weighs on balancing distance, culture, global engineering practices and more. In this scenario many unforeseen socio-technical events may result into additional project cost or ?social" debt, e.g., sudden, collective employee turnover. With industrial research we discovered community smells, that is, sub-optimal patterns across the organisational and social structure in a software development community that are precursors of such nasty socio-technical events. To understand the impact of community smells at large, in this paper we first introduce CodeFace4Smells, an automated approach able to identify four community smell types that reflect socio-technical issues that have been shown to be detrimental both the software engineering and organisational research fields. Then, we perform a large-scale empirical study involving over 100 years worth of releases and communication structures data of 60 open-source communities: we evaluate (i) their diffuseness, i.e., how much are they distributed in open-source, (ii) how developers perceive them, to understand whether practitioners recognize their presence and their negative effects in practice, and (iii) how community smells relate to existing socio-technical factors, with the aim of assessing the inter-relations between them. The key findings of our study highlight that community smells are highly diffused in open-source and are perceived by developers as relevant problems for the evolution of software communities. Moreover, a number of state-of-the-art socio-technical indicators (e.g., socio-technical congruence) can be used to monitor how healthy a community is and possibly avoid the emergence of social debt.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number8651329
    Pages (from-to)630-652
    Number of pages23
    JournalIEEE Transactions on Software Engineering
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021


    The authors would like to thank Dr. Simone Magnoni to the definition and refinement of the contents of this study and to Prof. Dr. Elisabetta Di Nitto for the feedback she gave during the inception of this study. Dr. Palomba gratefully acknowledges the support of the SNSF Project named “Data-driven Contemporary Code Review” (No. PP00P2_170529).

    FundersFunder number
    Schweizerischer Nationalfonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen ForschungPP00P2_170529


      • Empirical Software Engineering
      • Human Aspects in Software Engineering
      • Microstructure
      • Open source software
      • Organizational aspects
      • Social networking (online)
      • Social Software Engineering
      • Software Community Smells
      • Software engineering
      • Software Organisational Structures
      • Tools


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