Fortnightly Mailing Number 60

Open source process - success factors

This extract is from the final chapter of The Success of Open Source, by Stephen Weber, ISBN 0674012925, published by Harvard University Press in 2004.

The open source process is more likely to work effectively in tasks that have these characteristics.

  1. Disaggregated contributions can be derived from knowledge that is accessible under clear, non-discriminatory conditions, not proprietary or locked up.
  2. The product is perceived as important and valuable to a critical mass of users.
  3. The product benefits from widespread peer attention and review, and can improve through creative challenge and error correction (that is, the rate of error correction exceeds the rate of error introduction).
  4. There are strong positive network effects to use of the product.
  5. An individual or a small group can take the lead and generate a substantive core that promises to evolve into something truly useful.
  6. A voluntary community of iterated interaction can develop around the process of building the product.

Some of these hypotheses shade off into arguments about the motivation of the agents. To be more precise, the open source process is likely to work effectively when agents have these characteristics.

  1. Potential contributors can judge with relative ease the viability of the evolving product.
  2. The agents have the information they need to make an informed bet that contributed efforts will actually generate a joint good, not simply be dissipated.
  3. The agents are driven by motives beyond simple economic gain and have a "shadow of the future" for rewards (symbolic and otherwise) that is not extremely short.
  4. The agents learn by doing and gain personally valuable knowledge in the process.
  5. Agents hold a positive normative or ethical valence toward the process.

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