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August 26, 2016

Github has become the de-facto platform for open-source development on the web today. As such, they are in a position to drastically influence the open-source landscape (positively or negatively) through small design changes.

Much has been said of the Github's contribution timeline. It's a visual representation of Github activity and, for better or for worse, it drives the behavior of many users. But what does it encourage? It encourages regular commits to your repos.

That's all fine and well. But what if we could encourage regular commits to other people's repos?

It's more difficult to commit to other people's repos than your own. In addition to writing the code, you have to get a feel for their project and read up on their contribution guidelines. Once submitted, your PR is likely to go through rounds of feedback, if you're lucky, and be completely ignored if you're not.

But committing to other people's repos is important for a healthy community. It allows you to teach and learn, and the diversity of input results in better software.

What would a design change like that look like?

Publicly visible metrics drive behavior, but most of your contributions to other repos are invisible to others. They are either lost in a sea of timeline commits or truncated in the top right. What if that truncated list could be expanded to show all the public projects that you contributed to? What if your commit counts for other people's projects were surfaced on the profile page, or at least summarized one click deeper?

Can you imagine what kind of impact that would have on the open-source community? Would there be any downside to such a change? And what could be the upside? I'd love to see Github start asking these questions.

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