motivations of developers {was: Re: Doesn't it make developers mad??}

Christian Einfeldt einfeldt at
Wed Nov 3 02:45:14 GMT 2004


I noticed this discussion on one of the KDE lists, and I wanted to 
post it to the marketing list of OOo, because the OOo marketing 
lead, Jacqueline McNally, and the Community Lead, Louis 
Suarez-Potts have both been talking about the need for more 
developers.  I thought that the cross posting between the two lists 
also might foster some cross-project communication.

My simplistic approach to the shortage of developers is this:  
create more developers!  We can do this by growing the size of the 
broader community of open source users, because inevitably, more 
and more children will grow up to take an interest in software, and 
more and more of them will turn their attention to FLOSS.

This idea is not new to me.  I actually sponged it off of a Berkeley 
Political Science prof named Steve Weber, author of "The Success of 
Open Source."  (Unless, of course, I misunderstood his book.)  

His discussion of this phenomenon of giving code is, of course, much 
more elaborate than I can summarize in one email.  But essentially 
he notes that while there are lots of things that motivate 
developers, one motivation is the developers' belief that they will 
get code back in exchange for the code that they contribute.  He 
calls open source software an "anti-rival" resource, or a "network 
good" because the more it is consumed, the more likely that people 
will be drawn to the project to contribute.  

Here is a question that someone posted to the KDE list which 
prompted my cross-post: 

On Friday 29 October 2004 06:36, daniel wrote:
> On October 28, 2004 04:46 pm, faraz khan wrote:
> > I adore linux , I adore KDE and i adore the people who work on
> > this (I do too, but not much at all to be noticed). I am
> > becoming a part of a company that will become a OSS consultancy
> > in Pakistan. I have a VERY basic and philosophical question
> > that has been raised by my investor and left unanswered, maybe
> > you can help me out.
> >
> > He says: Using OSS, the Hardware vendor makes money- the
> > consultant makes money, supporter makes money.. EVERYBODY but
> > the poor developer. He wants to know how, without money, will
> > these developers be able to sustain such development?
> >
> > I do my work just for fun.. gives me great pleasure in watching
> > my programs being used by others.. Dont you guys wish u would
> > benefit off this too? doesnt it make u mad that everybody else
> > up the chain is reaping benefits but not you?
> >
> > Just looking for opinions.. I thought KDE might be the best
> > place to ask since this is ONE MAMMOTH of a OSS project- taking
> > a lot of developer time.
> something i've not heard mentioned yet, but has always been my
> reasoning behind contribution to Free software is that the reward
> is the contribution of others to the same project.
> if this type of collaboration never existed (or was never
> permitted to exist) someone could create a really sweet web
> browser / file manager (say konqueror) and that's all it would
> ever be.  but now, those responsible for konqueror can benefit
> from it's integration with any number of other apps they had
> nothing to do with, not the least of which the new crystal icons
> made for kde3 or the xine libs that allow for video preview.
> making your software Free doesn't mean you're not compensated, it
> means you're compensated by the community in different ways.  now
> we all have really great tools to make really great stuff and
> hopefully some of that "stuff" will contribute to the next wave
> of Free software, and so on.

So the writer immediately above seems to be saying something similar 
to what Steve Weber is saying.   

"I have outlined a set of motivational drivers that, taken together 
with in different proportions for different individuals, might 
inspire their active contributions.  What makes this important in 
the large-scale and anonymous Internet setting is the heterogeneity 
of potential contributors.  A heterogeneous group has within it, 
out on the tails of distribution of interests and resources, people 
who (through some combination of micromotivations) will contribute 
to the joint product.  The more heterogeneous the group is, the 
larger the proportion of people who sit out on the tails of the 
distribution.  This might be true of many different kinds of 
collective action problems, but open source is different in these 
two essential ways.  The transaction costs involved in connecting 
these people out on the tails is almost zero.  And the people in 
the rest of the distribution are not really free riding in the 
sense that their behavior detracts in any way from the collective 
goo. As I argued previously, they generally make some positive 
contribution.  This explanation is consistent with the evidence 
concerning the 80-20 distribution of effort in large open source 
projects; it also helps explain why the 20 percent does not see any 
reason to try to exclude the 80 percent or put them in a formally 
different category of access to the joint good."  p 155.

Here comes the point where I sponged Steve Weber's idea about open 
source being a "non-rival" good, aka a "network good":

"Call it a network good, or an antirival good (an awkward but nicely 
descriptive term).  In simpler language, it means that the value of 
a piece of software to any user increases as more people use the 
software on their machines and in their particular settings.  
Compatibility in the standard sense of a network good is one reason 
why this is so.  Just as it is more valuable for me to have a fax 
machine if lots of other people also have fax machines, as more 
computers in the world run a particular operating system or 
application it becomes easier to communicate and share files across 
those computers.  Each becomes slightly more valuable to existing 
users as each new user enters the picture."  p 154

Jaqueline McNally, lead of the OOo marketing project, has expressed 
understandable concern that not enough people are contributing to 
the code, as has the OOo project manager for Sun, Erwin Tenhumberg.  
However, after reading Steve Weber's "Success of Open Source" book, 
I became convinced that (to quote a cliche) "if we build it, they 
(more developers) will come," provided that the overall open source 
movement continues to bring people into the larger community.  

If Steve Weber is correct (and I think that he is), then the code 
will benefit from the addition of newbies to the community, whether 
each individual newbie contributes code or not.  Daniel, our 
resident mathematician in the OOo community, will probably be able 
to give us a formula that addresses this point, but it would seem 
that Metcalfe's law (the value of the network equals the square of 
the nodes on the network).  The larger the community and the more 
that the society as a whole relies on computers to do stuff, the 
more likely that people will choose jobs associated with computers, 
including the job of developer.  

To the extent that FLOSS grabs increasingly greater market share, 
the more likely that those developers will chose to direct their 
energies into FLOSS.  

Or, to put it more simply, success begets success.  And success then 
begins to feed on itself, hopefully spawing exponential growth, 
especially as desktop market share moves through the first 50% of 
market share.  At some point, it would seem that a tipping point 
will occur, and the rate of social change will become very 
noticeable, and the pond will suddenly be covered with lily pads at 
the end of summer, although growth of the lilies was not noticeable 
for most of the summer. 
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