Exploring community smells in open-source: an automated approach

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


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


  • 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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