Community, Joining, and Specialization in Open Source Software Innovation: A Case Study

This paper develops an inductive theory of the open source software innovation process by focussing on the creation of Freenet, a project aimed at developing a decentralized and anonymous peer-to-peer electronic file sharing network

Georg von Krogh


Scholarcy highlights

  • The production of open source software1 results in the creation of a public good that is non-rival, i.e. users’ utility from the software are independent, and non-exclusive, i.e. no individual or institution can be feasibly withheld from its usage
  • An assertion in the private-collective model, and much of the writing on OSS is that the success of a project in terms of producing the software relates to the growth in the size of the developer community; people who contribute to the public good of open source software by writing software code for the project
  • Contribution barrier What can explain this high specialization of newcomers? Based on the interview findings, and the literature in commercial software development, we propose a construct of “contribution barrier” erected by complex open source software technologies, where the following four items pertain: 1. ease of modifying and coding module; 2. the extent to which the potential developer can choose the computer language used to code for the module can vary; 3. ease with which to “plug” the module into the architecture; 4. the extent to which a module is intertwined or independently working from the main code
  • We studied joining and early contribution to the collective action of open source software innovation
  • We developed the construct of “joining script”, and proposed that contributors who follow joining scripts in terms of level and type of activity are more likely to obtain access to the developer community
  • We proposed that newcomers derive benefits from specializing in their contributions, that specialization of newcomers will be related to the contribution barriers in the project, that feature gifts given by newcomers will be related to their specialization in the project
  • Feature gifts will be based on the newcomers prior direct experience and are related to contribution barriers and they create new entry points for developers who follow

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