I noticed a down vote on Do open source projects have better or worse female participation than proprietary projects?. As my comments there show, I think this question is both important and answerable with evidence:

Although it may be (perhaps counter-intuitively) easier to measure this for closed source projects (by looking at employment figures) whereas open source projects may have anonymous contributors with unspecified gender, I would expect there to be ways of estimating this. There are many companies that pay developers to contribute to open source projects, and many open source contributors who are known by name.

Demographic inclusion is important to measure for any project, to ensure it is getting the best developers from a large group (everyone) rather than from a smaller group (a specific gender). For an open source project where there's generally no salary to partially counteract disincentives for contributing, it is even more important to be able to measure any exclusion, whether real or perceived.

How does the community feel about demographic questions in general?

2 Answers 2


The community road won't be smooth.

Gender equality and involvement has long been an issue in many computer and technology industries. As Open Source development projects are composed of many components of these industries, there's no doubt that gender equality will plague these developments. They're not specific to Open Source, I don't think they belong here. But Wait!

Now about the question...

Open Source projects are different in nature than proprietary projects. They tend to be more open to wide ranges of contributors, of all sorts. So the question deserves to be on-topic. It supplies relevant information, and it is directly related to Open Source.

My stance:

  • General demographic questions: Off-Topic
  • This question and others related to Open Source: On-Topic
  • I'm having trouble understanding what you mean by a "general demographic question" on this site that is not "related to Open Source". (Aside from blatantly off-topic questions, of course.) Could you explain, or make up an example?
    – Dan Getz
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 4:10
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    @DanGetz That's no problem at all! When I say demographics, I normally think of general community statistics (e.g. socio-economics, education, disease rates, population, jobs...). If the questions ask for something say "How many girls are there in Toronto?", it's off-topic. Fine, that was a really bad example, but an example of an on-topic question would be listed in the question
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 12:04

I feel this type of questions could potentially be a "boat programming" question. Read all about it here: What is the boat programming meme about?

In short: this was a question on SO about advice on programming on a boat. Back then this question was a breakpoint in the discussion about this being on/off topic on SO:

The fundamental rule is you can't just stick "for programmers" on a question to make it programming related.

I think the OS SE community could come up with thousands of questions of this kind:

  • Do programmers of open source projects have better or worse physical health than programmers in proprietary projects?
  • Are programmers of open source projects have better or worse social skills than programmers in proprietary projects?
  • Do programmers of open source projects have better or worse career chances than programmers in proprietary projects?
  • ...

And for all questions there's something to say for relevance (health > stress in proprietary projects v.s. open source, social skills > open source = social/community, career chances > work is visible vs. unaccessible)

I hope you can see my point here. I would vote this to be off topic unless a clear guideline could be set.

Are questions about pet ownership statistics also on topic?

  • 2
    Boat programming is a good short hand way of describing a way of trying to disguise an off-topic question by putting " for open source developers" on the end. However, not everything that mentions open source is a disguised off-topic question. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 14:11
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    For the example question, it's not just asking a demographic question about open source, it's specifically asking for differences between open source and proprietary projects. Since proprietary projects have legal protections in most countries to reduce bullying, disrespect and inappropriate behaviour (in the form of obligations on the employer), whereas open source projects do not, this question is very important to the future of open source. I see this as firmly on the other side of the line from boat programming. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 14:15
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    Since there is a fuzzy line between the two, it will still be important to keep boat programming in mind when assessing future questions. I just don't think it is a reason to exclude all demographic questions. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 14:16
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    @trichoplax, of course OS is about community and people participating, so questions about demographics could be quite relevant. There's a pro answer here and to give this topic some more weight, I've added my con answer. As this site has just started I do want to keep the discussion going and keep a sharp eye out for possible "boat programming" escalations or any other pitfalls other SE sites have already gone through...
    – 7ochem
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 14:49
  • 1
    It's definitely important to have both sides of the argument presented. Sometimes I post answers on both sides to see how the votes choose between them. Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 15:05

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