Folding and Unfolding: Balancing Openness and Transparency in Open Source Communities

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/isre.2016.0646

Open source communities rely on the espoused premise of complete openness and transparency of source code and development process. Yet, openness and transparency at times need to be balanced out with moments of less open and transparent work. Through our detailed study of Linux Kernel development, we build a theory that explains that transparency and openness are nuanced and changing qualities that certain developers manage as they use multiple digital technologies and create, in moments of needs, more opaque and closed digital spaces of work. We refer to these spaces as digital folds. Our paper contributes to the extant literature by providing a process theory of how transparency and openness are balanced with opacity and closure in open source communities according to the needs of the development work; by conceptualizing the nature of digital folds and their role in providing quiet spaces of work; and, by articulating how the process of digital folding and unfolding is made far more possible by select elite actors’ navigating the line between the pragmatics of coding and the accepted ideology of openness and transparency.

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