Making Open Work
May 8–9, 2017: Training & Tutorials
May 10–11, 2017: Conference
Austin, TX

It takes a digital village: An empirical and analytical look at what grows strong communities across

Ben Balter (GitHub)
1:45pm2:25pm Thursday, May 11, 2017
Collaboration and Community
Location: Meeting Room 9C
Level: Intermediate
Average rating: ***..
(3.00, 1 rating)

Who is this presentation for?

  • Open source developers, community managers, engineering managers, and product managers

What you'll learn

  • Understand why online communities are no different than the offline communities we experience every day and require the same care and attention
  • Gain an empirical and analytical understanding of what best practices encourage strong communities on, the world's largest open source platform
  • Get great insight into the steps GitHub has been taking to encourage model online citizenship and what effect, if any, those steps have had on community building on


Think about an offline community you’re part of. It could be the neighborhood or town you live in, the congregation at your place of worship, or your local bowling league. Communities are about groups of people coming together to solve a shared challenge (having a nice place to live, practicing one’s religious beliefs, or having an excuse to wear silly shoes), and each community has its leaders (elected officials, clergy, team captains) and some form of codified ideals (legal code, religious teachings, league regulations).

When you move that community online, these ideas continue to be true. Communities on are fundamentally no different than the offline communities we all participate in every day. Despite this, open source community building often remains an afterthought to most open source projects, and many communities struggle to thrive. So how do you grow strong online communities? Should you add a CONTRIBUTING file? What should you include? A code of conduct? If so, how stringently should it be enforced? An open source license? If so, which one? What impact do providing these resources have on the number of external and external contributions?

Ben Balter offers an empirical and analytical look across the millions of open source projects that GitHub hosts to determine what behaviors, if any, healthy communities have in common and expose best practices for community management and community building. Ben also shares steps GitHub has been taking within its product to encourage model online citizenship within the open source communities it hosts and discourage disruptive behavior and explores what effect, if any, these subtle (and not-so-subtle product interventions) have had on community building across GitHub as a whole. If we think about what we want open source to look like in 5 or 10 years, can adding or reducing friction within a developer’s day-to-day workflow today change the face of the open source tomorrow?

Photo of Ben Balter

Ben Balter


Ben Balter is a product manager at GitHub, the world’s largest software development network. Previously, Ben served as GitHub’s government evangelist, leading the efforts to encourage government at all levels to adopt open source philosophies for code, for data, and for policy development. Prior to GitHub, Ben was a member of the inaugural class of Presidential Innovation Fellows, where he served as entrepreneur in residence reimagining the role of technology in brokering the relationship between citizens and government; was a fellow in the Office of the US Chief Information Officer within the Executive Office of the President, where he was instrumental in drafting the president’s Digital Strategy and Open Data Policy; served on the SoftWare Automation and Technology (SWAT) Team, the White House’s first and only Agile development team; and was a new media fellow in the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of the Managing Director. He published a paper, “Towards a More Agile Government,” in the Public Contract Law Journal, which argued that Federal IT procurement should be more amenable to modern, Agile development methods. Ben has been named one of the top 25 most influential people in government and technology and Fed 50’s disruptor of the year and was described by the US chief technology officer as one of “the baddest of the badass innovators.” He is also a winner of the Open Source People’s Choice Award. An attorney passionate about the disruptive potential of technology, Ben holds a JD and an MBA. from the George Washington University and is a member of the DC Bar. When not trying to change the world, he enjoys tackling otherwise-impossible challenges to sharing information using nothing more than duct tape, version control, and occasionally a pack of bubblegum.