The title is actually deceiving. I’m really going to talk about my pet open source project. I will talk about its low download rate and the lack of feedback it gets. I will then discuss if that makes it successful.
My pet open source project is called PlaneDisaster.NET. It is a SQL frontend for Microsoft Access and SQLite databases. Basically it allows you to query and manipulate Microsoft Access databases through the JetSQL engine. I wrote it originally to teach myself C#, and then eventually began to rely on it extensively as part of a contracting job where my data was being stored in an access database.
So how can I classify this project as unsuccessful. First of all the project gets little traffic and even less feedback. The most downloads I got in a calendar month was 234 in March of 2007, and there were 2 trouble tickets opened about it anonymously that I didn’t open myself. So obviously the program gets used. However, I have yet to have anyone testify that, “Yes I downloaded your project and I use it regularly.” People I know have downloaded the program and given me feedback on it, but none of them have any actual use for the program.
There is some other data supporting the conclusion that some people actually use my project. A similar console based project called JetSQLConsole gets far fewer downloads on SourceForge than my project does. There is one person that gets notified when I post a new release on SourceForge. Traffic jumps a bit when I make a new release. So in all likelihood the project has limited success in terms of being utilitarian to others, but fails miserably in giving the author a sense of benefiting others.
There are also other measures that I can qualify this open source project as successful.. This was originally my “teach myself C#” project. I have succeeded in that task. It later became my “teach myself NSIS” and “teach myself WiX” project when I needed to learn how to write an installer. It was immensely successful in those regards. It has also been useful for when I has to deal with Microsoft Access databases. So it has been of great academic value and utilitarian value to myself.
The conclusion I’ve come to is that you cannot define the success of an open source project by a single set of benchmarks. It depends on many factors. First and foremost is what purpose the software serves. Like closed source software, some programs serve a very small audience, and some could benefit most users if installed on their workstations. Some are designed by the programmer for their own personal use and released as open source in the unlikely event others will benefit.
As one final postscript, I hope my readership does not discount JetSQLConsole if they need a SQL editor for Microsoft Access Databases. It has a lot of potential. I have submitted a patch to it a while back that is part of the current binary release. Some people might find a command line based program more useful. With a bit more work the program could become serious competition to PlaneDisaster.NET.