Questions for the audience: visible project leaders

One of the interesting attributes of open source projects is that, once they reach a certain critical size, they still may or may not have a single, visible leader. I suppose by a visible leader I mean an individual that the project’s community views as having authority over the project’s direction, architecture, and implementation. For other projects, there is a public or private group that possesses that authority. We’ve also seen projects, either at the time of a fork or in their normal course, transition from one leadership class to the other.

The primary question that we might formulate is “does the presence of a single, visible leader affect the chances for success of an open source project?”. But this doesn’t really probe the issue very deeply, as success for an open source project can be defined very differently by the project, by an external observer, or by a customer or investor in the organization(s) that use or sponsor the project. We could define success by size of the user community, increase in likelihood of the project’s longevity, introduction of desired features or elimination of defects, or grant renewals, and so forth.

If we look at the first of these, we might conclude that the size of the user community, although connected to project utility and quality, is probably also influenced by communications about the project. Since stories about individuals are usually more compelling than those about committees, perhaps it’s easiest to take advantage of the comfortable “leader-as-project” viewpoint and let those stories–be they formal news coverage or blogging or word of mount–circulate. But it’s less clear that the identification of the individual with the project (“I am the state.”) and the authority for project direction need to travel together.

What do you think? Does the leadership structure (or even the celebrity of the author) associated with a project influence your choice of that software, open source or otherwise? Are certain structures more appealing from your perspective?