Graveyard of broken dreams

Blockchain projects’ life expectancy: GitHub is full of neglected blockchain projects

Gabriela Motroc
© Shutterstock / Angelica Corneliussen

The blockchain market shows no signs of slowing down and this technology is one of the hottest skills in the IT job market. However, if you want to get an overview of all the open source blockchain projects out there, you should head over to GitHub. That’s exactly what we did.

If you head over to GitHub, you’ll see that there are currently 26.000 blockchain repositories, 224.000 commits, 40.000 issues, 141 topics, 8.000 wikis and 7.000 users. That’s great, right?

It’s also interesting to see what languages blockchain developers prefer. As it turns out, the top 5 list is as follows:

  1. JavaScript: 6.861
  2. Python: 2.885
  3. Java: 1.626
  4. Go: 1.468
  5. HTML: 1.045

Why is JavaScript No.1? There are probably a thousand ways to answer this question but we might have a lead. Earlier this year, we talked to Will Clark, Full Stack Developer at Lisk about how JavaScript might help blockchain escape its “hard to understand” label.

Choosing JavaScript as Lisk’s main programming language ensures wide platform adoption once the tools are released. At Lisk, we want to make blockchain technology accessible to all, we have a strong commitment to open source, and a diverse range of products which all need to align, so JavaScript is the obvious choice for us.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always the right choice — for example, JavaScript would probably make a poor fit for a blockchain project which focused on record-breaking scalability without the need for browser-based clients. I do think that the structure and immutability of blockchains make them generally well suited to functional programming. Like Scala, JavaScript is multi-paradigm and we’re increasingly incorporating functional patterns into our code.

Read the full interview here

We might have an explanation for Go, too. In mid-February, we talked with Shoshana Deutschkron, VP of Communications & Brand for Upwork about this programming language’s growth and we learned that “Go, created in 2009, is seen as simple and increasingly being used to create smart contracts in building blockchain, which may have played a role in its recent demand surge.”

Still, what we’re really interested in is blockchain projects’ life expectancy so let’s dig deeper.

Blockchain projects: Out of sight, out of mind?

If we look at the project with the highest number of stars, we’ll see that the last commit was in late April. The next project [with 2.3k stars] hasn’t been touched in two months and the third one hasn’t received attention since August 2014.

The collection of useful documents about Bitcoin, Ethereum, blockchain technologies and distributed system is pretty busy but that might as well be an exception. The point is that there are a lot of neglected blockchain projects or even abandoned, in some cases. But don’t take my word for it! There’s actually a really good report by Deloitte titled  Evolution of Blockchain Technology: Insights from the GitHub Platform. Although it was published in late 2017, their point still stands.

The mortality rate of projects is often an essential factor in understanding project centrality and the emergence of protocols and best practices. For commercial purposes, since few projects will likely survive, understanding the factors that contribute to a project’s mortality may be an essential skill for firms wishing to piggyback on a successful code, emulate successful projects, or build in-house capabilities. Note that about 90 percent of projects developed on GitHub become idle, and the average life span of a project is about one year, with the highest mortality rate occurring within the first six months.

According to the report, a lot of projects become inactive because they are developed by users (and not organizations), who are more prone to tinker, develop and prototype ideas that often do not gain traction, they only have one commiter or other users aren’t interested in forking the repos.

However, in analyzing blockchain repositories and their content, Deloitte noticed that increasingly more organizations appear to be getting involved. It seems that projects owned by organizations are updated more frequently but that shouldn’t come as a shock. Whenever an organization backs a project, its chance of success increases.

If you want to satisfy your hunger for data, you should know that Dan Kohn, the Executive Director of the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, dug a little deeper into this issue and found  that the majority of the most successful open source projects are supported either by a foundation, a company, or a consortium of companies collaborating together.

Read more about how to make an open source project succeed here

Anyway, the idea of this article is that since developers have great interest in blockchain and we all know that side projects do matter, why not develop your blockchain skills by forking a project? The “adopt, don’t shop” saying might actually work for blockchain projects, too.

Don’t forget to read Deloitte’s report.

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Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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