Strategic Interaction and Knowledge Sharing in the KDE Developer Mailing List

Published Online:

In stark contrast with the fully participative “bazaar” imagery of open source software (OSS) development, some recent empirical research has pointed out that much of the OSS development is carried out by a small percentage of developers. This raises serious concerns that concentration of development effort on a few will limit knowledge sharing and underutilize the available resources. Using the notion of strategic interaction, this paper argues that individual developers often interact strategically with other highly resourceful developers by forming a smaller but better organized structure to intensify the types of epistemic interactions that matter most to the OSS development. A general framework of strategic interaction including participation inequality, conversational interactivity, and cross-thread connectivity is proposed to examine its impact on knowledge sharing, and validated using 128 discussion threads from the K Desktop Environment (KDE) developer mailing list. The findings indicate that strategic interaction has expanded knowledge sharing but with the caveat that extreme concentration of development could have an opposite effect. For researchers, this study dovetails the incentive logic by proposing and validating the strategic aspects of OSS participation to better understand the collective dynamics underpinning OSS development. Practitioners can use this approach to evaluate and better support existing knowledge-sharing initiatives.

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