The Love Languages of Open Source Maintainers

How to make the maintainers of Open Source projects happy

Eugene Mandel
January 04, 2021
oss love langs 0

A couple of weeks ago I found myself floating through the day happy and unusually giggly.

When I stopped to think why, it dawned on me - it was that one bug report. I came across it during the daily triage of new GitHub issues for Great Expectations - our open source project. It was so clearly written and had such detailed description of the environment and the steps required to reproduce it! The user took the time to be as helpful as possible to us. It literally made my day. Thank you Ryan! :)

It made sense - being helpful is how I let others know I care about them. "Acts of service" is my love language.

You are most likely familiar with the concept of love languages - “ways that romantic partners express and experience love”. The author Gary Chapman outlined five love languages: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch.

So, what makes Open Source maintainers feel good? What are their love languages?

Some of the love languages don’t make an easy transition from the world of romantic love to Open Source. Physical touch - OK, no!

Others translate really well:

words of affirmation (A.K.A things that make you go aww)

  • Seeing an "our team loves you” note in your email inbox
  • Hearing a user recommend your project to a colleague
  • Running into a job posting (or a resume) with your project in the skills section
  • Discovering a blog post by a user: "how we did {AMAZING THING} using {YOUR PROJECT}”
  • Seeing an enthusiastic recommendation on social media
  • Finding a meetup/conference talk that mentions your project (or, even better, is entirely dedicated to your project)
  • Stumbling on your project's swag in the wild. It can be seeing your sticker on someone's laptop. In our case, it is seeing our contributors post their mugs on Twitter and LinkedIn. Yes, mugs - look it up
  • Getting a message from the developer of a product/project you respect offering to partner and integrate
  • Seeing the GitHub star count go up

quality time

  • Users joining your Slack, participating in webinars and in general being active in the community

acts of service

  • A clearly written bug report on GitHub
  • A clearly written bug report on GitHub with a PR that fixes it
  • A new feature/enhancement suggestion
  • A PR that implements a new feature/enhancement
  • A user helping another user with a question or problem

receiving gifts

  • Every logo a company using your project gives you to display on your site is precious.
  • A reach-out from a VC asking if you are raising is exciting. Not that VC money is a gift.
  • An actual donation could be nice too.

Chapman’s original list is not comprehensive. How did he leave humor out?! When users are in on our jokes and puns, it feels pretty good. Granted, naming the project Great Expectations created a pun-rich environment - Dickensian puns abound.

Open Source software is everywhere. It is increasingly difficult to find a company that uses no OSS. There is hardly a commercial SaaS product that has no open source dependencies in its code base. Yet, project maintainers frequently complain of burnout and frustration. It can be a tough place to be, especially if you don’t see all the good that you are doing.

If you rely on an Open Source project in your work, keep in mind all the ways you can make their authors feel loved.

If you are an Open Source project author/maintainer, we would love to hear from you - what are your love languages?

Footnote: the credit (and apologies) go to Albrecht Dürer and his work Cupid the Honey Thief

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