The concept of the core group of developers is important and often discussed in empirical studies of FLOSS projects. This paper examines the question, “how does one empirically distinguish the core?” Being able to identify the core members of a FLOSS development project is important because many of the processes necessary for successful projects likely involve core members differently than peripheral members, so analyses that mix the two groups will likely yield invalid results.
We compare 3 analysis approaches to identify the core: the named list of developers, a Bradford’s law analysis that takes as the core the most frequent contributors and a social network analysis of the interaction pattern that identifies the core in a core-and-periphery structure. We apply these measures to the interactions around bug fixing for 116 SourceForge projects. The 3 techniques identify different individuals as core members; examination of which individuals are identified leads to suggestions for refining the measures. All 3 measures though suggest that the core of FLOSS projects is a small fraction of the total number of contributors.