Online collaborative communities are now ubiquitous. Identifying the nature of the events that drive contributors to withdraw from a project is of prime importance to ensure the sustainability of those communities. Previous studies used ad hoc criteria to identify withdrawn contributors, preventing comparisons between results and introducing interpretation biases. This paper compares different methods to identify withdrawn contributors, proposing a probabilistic approach. Withdrawals from the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community are investigated using time series and survival analyses. Survival analysis revealed that participants’ withdrawal pattern compares with the life cycles studied in reliability engineering. For OSM contributors, this life cycle would translate into three phases: “evaluation,” “engagement” and “detachment.” Time series analysis, when compared with the different events that may have affected the motivation of OSM participants over time, showed that an internal conflict about a license change was related to largest bursts of withdrawals in the history of the OSM project. This paper not only illustrates a formal approach to assess withdrawals from online communities, but also sheds new light on contributors’ behavior, their life cycle, and events that may affect the length of their participation in such project.
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