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The importance of social aspects seems to be inversely proportional to the technical difficulty of the problem being solved. Easier problems or otherwise nontechnical problems will see many open source solutions, and to stand out you have to use many of the same marketing techniques as commercial software. Harder problems generally see fewer solutions and the natural flow of people looking for solutions generally means you don't have to invest much in social efforts.

For example, our major open source project (https://github.com/sheetjs/js-xlsx, currently at 17K stars) started as a solo project, and most of the "growth" was driven by the complexity of the underlying problems as well as the general acceptance of JS.

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