Motivation and Design of Developer-Friendly Open Source UI Libraries; Effect of Business Involvement in Open Source Software on Power Distribution in Community Development Environments

Taing, Alex, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Foley, Rider, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Morrison, Briana, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia
Vrugtman, Rosanne, EN-Comp Science Dept, University of Virginia

Yext, a New York based software company, offers an enterprise search service called “Search” that provides companies the infrastructure to allow customers to browse products, services, and FAQs on company websites. To integrate with this service, companies use “answers-search-ui,” a programming toolkit provided by Yext, to build their sites so that they are connected to Search. Although clients were able to start making functional sites quickly using this toolkit, it made advanced customizations difficult, its design concepts were unfamiliar to outside developers, and its structure was not sustainable for long-term development. To address these issues, a new toolkit called “search-ui-react” was developed. This new toolkit was designed with an emphasis on usability, adoptability, and maintainability. These characteristics were achieved by deliberately including open source software into its design and decoupling its many independent functionalities. Similar to the libraries it uses, this tool was also released publicly on GitHub under an open source license. As more and more corporations release software under the umbrella of open source, it is important to recognize their effects on this community.
The Open Source movement was inspired by the Free Software movement which was created around the values of community-based software development and freedom from proprietary software released by companies. Now, many for-profit companies also manage open source software. Since the values associated with open source software (OSS) seem to have transformed over time, we investigate how power is currently distributed between community individuals and for-profit companies in open source development environments. Technopolitics, an analytical framework that emphasizes the political values embedded in the design and use of technology, was used to interpret our findings. Data was collected from GitHub repositories, which are common centers for open source software development. From a sample of repositories, we collected the hundred most active contributors and their self-identified affiliations. Additionally, we collected the affiliations of the fifty most recent contributors to the software, and the affiliations of the individuals that approved these contributions. With this data, we investigated where loci of power lie, and the power dynamics between these parties. It was found that firm agents become more significant loci of power as for-profit firms become more involved in OSS. This causes power dynamics to widen as these firms become more involved in OSS. When companies manage open source software, it is important to understand the implications of their influence, and to be cognizant of the culture they cultivate. Although community-oriented software was once the basis OSS, this reasonable expectation may be in danger now that businesses are in control of many OSS repositories.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Technopolitics, Open Source Software, UI, Power Dynamics, Commercial Open Source Software, Embedded Values

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Briana Morrison
STS Advisor: Rider Foley

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