Motivation, Governance, and the Viability of Hybrid Forms in Open Source Software Development

Published Online:https://doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.1060.0553

Open source software projects rely on the voluntary efforts of thousands of software developers, yet we know little about why developers choose to participate in this collective development process. This paper inductively derives a framework for understanding participation from the perspective of the individual software developer based on data from two software communities with different governance structures.

In both communities, a need for software-related improvements drives initial participation. The majority of participants leave the community once their needs are met, however, a small subset remains involved. For this set of developers, motives evolve over time and participation becomes a hobby. These hobbyists are critical to the long-term viability of the software code: They take on tasks that might otherwise go undone and work to maintain the simplicity and modularity of the code. Governance structures affect this evolution of motives. Implications for firms interested in implementing hybrid strategies designed to combine the advantages of open source software development with proprietary ownership and control are discussed.

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