Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder
Choosing Older Or Younger Open Source Projects To Work On
Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.
Larger, older open source projects have more people, more getting-started resources for new contributors, more name recognition, and sometimes more money to spend. (Examples: the Linux kernel, MediaWiki (the software behind Wikipedia, part of Wikimedia), Mozilla (the makers of Firefox), WordPress.)
Younger ones, with smaller contributor populations and smaller codebases, sometimes give new contributors more responsibility and power quickly, change faster in response to new ideas, and have more malleable culture -- and you can become one of the few World Experts in that technology more easily. (Examples: Tornado, ClojureScript, MetricsGrimoire, ThinkUp.)
So, while Mozilla, GNOME, Wikimedia, etc. have bigger budgets and more formal programs, and often have a larger worldwide impact, it could be that smaller and younger projects will give you more relative expertise faster. It's worth considering.
(You can use Ohloh to find open source projects on a particular topic, and see how many contributors they already have, and to compare projects. Take the statistics with a grain of salt, though; sometimes they're off.)