AnalysisNumbers can tell you a lot. One thing is of course particularly cool: the numbers are big. Really big. ownCloud has had almost 300 people contribute code to it in the last 12 months. That is a lot. Some perspective: wordpress has had 52 contributors over its lifetime! Drupal: 149. phpbb: 190. Mediawiki: 534. Joomla: 483. VLC media player: 662. ownCloud has had 566 contributors over its lifetime. This is just one metric out of many, and the comparisons are between often wildly different projects so take it with some salt.
One thing I think you can safely conclude: ownCloud is certainly in the big leagues. Looking at our competition, the ownCloud Client team alone (59 contributors over its life time) is bigger than any other open source file sync and share technology.
Why numbersWe primarily want to keep an eye on numbers to see if we are doing well or not. Anecdotal evidence is important (I really like to read all the positive feedback on the #ownCloud7 release) but hard numbers are very important too. For example, if we see fewer new people join ownCloud, we can see if we can improve developer documentation or have to offer better help for new developers on IRC.
We have good reasons to keep an eye on that. Open Source projects typically have a huge turnover (60%/year is normal), requiring us to keep attracting new contributors. Not only that, ownCloud Inc. has hired many community members and, through its marketing and sales machine, is increasing the number of ownCloud users enormously. We do numbers on our user base internally, and the number we make public (about 1.7 million at the moment) is a rather conservative estimate. And growing quickly: Germany's upcoming largest-ever cloud deployment will bring ownCloud to half a million users!
What effect does that have? For one, paid developers can create a 'freight train' effect, accelerating development to a point where it is hard for volunteers to catch up. This is a reason why it is good to split up the apps from the core and to improve the API offered by ownCloud. This makes it easier to keep changes more localized and easier to follow. Another effect is that the growing popularity of ownCloud brings more people to our mailing lists and forums, asking questions. That is a tough issue. Improvements in documentation can help here, but we can also think about other tools and ways to answer questions.
ConclusionsWe can't stare ourselves blind on numbers, and we won't. Real life matters more: that is why we are working hard on preparing the ownCloud Contributor Conference later this month! But it is cool to see confirmed what we already thought: ownCloud is a very significant Free Software community. Not just its size, but also in what we are doing and how we do it!
There still is plenty of work to be done so come help out and liberate more data!