The results of SourceForge's new, more accurate, project statistics system are bemusing.
A look at the weekly statistics shows SaVi ranking 1250th in weekly project activity. That is, barely more than a thousand open-source projects are more popular than SaVi; all the big-name SourceForge projects you've heard of, and more than a thousand you haven't -- while more than 98,000 SourceForge projects are less popular.
The figures show that SaVi is consistently in the 99th percentile of project popularity for weekly activity -- in other words, that SaVi is more popular than 99% of all currently registered SourceForge projects (or more popular than 97% of all such projects, if you're going on 'all time' figures).
As SaVi's sole registered developer and the only person I know still running it on a regular basis, I know this is ludicrous; I barely do any work to maintain it, it could be more portable, I see daily download figures but hardly ever receive comments or feedback about its use, so can safely presume that any random user trying to compile it winds up trashing it. SaVi is, to put it mildly, something of a minority interest, for a minor community consisting of me. But it's committed to public CVS, and there are announced file releases for download by users; since it's graphical (with state-of-the-art 3D... circa 1990 or so), there are pretty screenshots on webpages to look at, resulting in hit traffic. You are, at least, given the opportunity to choose to try out SaVi and decide for yourself that you have no interest in it. The lack of barriers to entry is not much by any measure, but those simple steps in making it available for use seem to be sufficient to rank it above almost all the nearly 100,000 currently registered SourceForge projects by their metrics.
The SourceForge home page currently claims 103,936 registered projects and 1,115,296 registered users. The SourceForge stats currently claim 99,256 visible projects out of a total of 137,420 ever registered; there was a widely-trumpeted cleanup of 'truly empty' projects a while back. Of those almost 100,000 'active' projects, I'd estimate 50,000 or so projects as vapour evanescing from good intentions that have never released files or committed changes to SourceForge CVS.
Once you're beyond around the 50,000th SourceForge project, it's pretty hard to find a project that has ever released files for download, and public CVS commits are increasingly rare. Some projects have file downloads but no SourceForge CVS use, which seems to miss the collaborative-development point of using SourceForge. After all, you can make files available for download anywhere on the web.
All of this makes the May 2005 SourceForge press release, claiming that SourceForge passes 100,000 projects hosted on the site, sound a little hollow. I'd expect hosting to include CVS use and some visible record of active development, or at least a single file release if the project is described as stable.
A thousand flowers may be blooming in SourceForge, but over a hundred thousand have withered on the vine. SourceForge project activity appears to be a very long tail indeed, and little of that tail is available as open source.
My apparently being a successful SourceForge developer is a compelling argument for commercial, closed, software written by people who are skilled programmers and who know what their users want, as opposed to people who simply talk a lot about how proud they are of their work (be that work SaVi or, say, Fetchmail). But it's true that success is based on perseverence, that all metrics are ultimately perverse, and that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.