A former teacher of mine, Ruben van Wendel de Joode, was writing a Ph.D. thesis on the organizational structure of FLOSS communities.
Recently I had heard that he was nearly finished and so I asked him if I could read it. He sent me a PDF copy but slightly intimidated by its size (a couple of hundred pages) it has been lying on my ToRead pile ever since.
Just now I have read the most recent Bits of Freedom newsletter about his research on FLOSS organization.
The piece in Bits of Freedom referred to the thesis and to an article in the Automatiseringsgids and set a very negative tone about corporate adoption of open source methodologies. These companies would risk ‘chasing phantoms’ and companies are set off diametrically against FLOSS.
This misguided conclusion certainly ignores any involvement of very high profile companies such as IBM, Novell and Sun both with existing open source projects as well as by releasing large parts of their source code to the communities. Companies large and small are increasingly becoming aware of the importance of FLOSS for their business.
Open Source developers need a reliable income just like other people. If companies become more attuned to Open Source, it makes life easier for those developers because they do not have to work in their free time anymore.
Back to Ruben: On his site a summary written by him (in Dutch) is linked. I have read that summary and the conclusion of the thesis (the rest I skimmed for now). The story he tells is far more positive, balanced and theoretical.
His thorough and understandable model of the functioning of FLOSS communities should be of interest to organizational scientists and to lay people who are unfamiliar in how these communities function. I am already very familiar with the projects he studies and the examples he notes. So for me it is not so interesting, only some of his observations are —to me— a bit counterintuitive.
He is actually cautiously optimistic (and I am more so) about the possibility for corporations to adopt FLOSS methodologies.
Corporations want to release a piece of software, create a sustainable community around it and usually also keep a hand in the future direction of developments. Not all of these goals are easy (or possible) but it is good for companies to learn how to let loose control and participate in an increasingly networked knowledge community.
Another strategy is internalizing FLOSS methodologies in the development process of a company. This is quite promising because one of the most important weaknesses of FLOSS is that unpopular features (documentation, user friendly menu's, etc.) have a hard time being implemented. Having contractual enforcement or money incentives for the developers greatly eases this process.
Posted by alper at 2005-10-16 01:34
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