Self-organized criticality in software repositories, poster presented at ECAL 2017


TheĀ European Conference on Artificial Life or ECAL is not one of our usual suspects. Although we have attended from time to time, and even organized it back in 95 (yep, that is a real web page from 1995, minus the slate gray background), it is a conference I quite enjoy, together with other artificial life related conferences. Artificial life was quite the buzzword in the 90s, but nowadays with all the deep learning and AI stuff it has gone out of fashion. Last time I attended,ten years ago, it seemed more crowded. Be that as it may, I have presented a tutorial and a poster about our work on looking for critical state in software repositories. This the poster itself, and there is a link to the open access proceedings, although, as you know, all our papers are online and you can obtain that one (and a slew of other ones) from repository.
This is a line of research we have been working on for a year now, from this initial paper were we examined a single repository for the Moose Perl module. We are looking for patterns that allow us to say whether repositories are in a critical state or not. Being as they are completely artificial systems, engineering artefacts, looking for self organized criticality might seem like a lost cause. On the other hand, it really clicks with our own experience when writing a paper or anything, really. You write in long stretches, and then you do small sessions where you change a line or two.
This paper, which looks at all kinds of open source projects, from Docker to vue.js, looks at three different things: long distance correlations, free-scale behavior of changes, and a pink noise in the spectral density of the time series of changes. And we do find it, almost everywhere. Most big repos, with more than a few hundred commits, possess it, independently of their language or origin (hobbyist or company).
There is still a lot of work ahead. What are the main mechanisms for this self-organization? Are there any exceptions? That will have to wait until the next conference.