Lakhani and Von Hippel (2003)
|Lakhani and Von Hippel (2003)|
|Title:||How open source software works: “free” user-to-user assistance|
|Author(s):||Lakhani, K.R., Von Hippel, E.|
|Citation:||Lakhani, K. R., & Von Hippel, E. (2003). How open source software works:“free” user-to-user assistance. Research policy, 32(6), 923-943.|
|Link(s):||Definitive , Open Access|
|Key Related Studies:|
|About the Data|
|Data Description:||The authors collected two types of data:
|Data Type:||Primary data|
|Secondary Data Sources:|
|Data Collection Methods:|
|Data Analysis Methods:|
|Cross Country Study?:||No|
|Government or policy study?:||No|
|Time Period(s) of Collection:||
Research into free and open source software development projects has so far largely focused on how the major tasks of software development are organized and motivated. But a complete project requires the execution of “mundane but necessary” tasks as well. In this paper, we explore how the mundane but necessary task of field support is organized in the case of Apache web server software, and why some project participants are motivated to provide this service gratis to others. We find that the Apache field support system functions effectively. We also find that, when we partition the help system into its component tasks, 98% of the effort expended by information providers in fact returns direct learning benefits to those providers. This finding considerably reduces the puzzle of why information providers are willing to perform this task “for free.” Implications are discussed.
Main Results of the Study
- The authors segmented an information transaction on Apache Usenet help into three subtasks: (1) a question must be posed; (2) the information sought must be matched to an appropriate and willing provider of information; (3) an answer must be provided.
- 98% of the time spent at the Apache online Usenet help site by providers is spent upon task (2)—reading questions and answers posted on the Usenet site.
- The actual answering of questions (task (3)) took up only 2% of a information provider’s time on site, with providers reporting that they invested only l–5 min per question answered.
Benefits of contributing include:
- The expectation of reciprocity - someone will help them in their turn.
- Helping the cause - strong identification with the open source community.
- Reputation/Enhanced career prospects - answering lots of questions well and in a timely fashion builds reputation and can lead to career anhancement.
- Intrinsic reward - answering questions is fun, rewarding and makes information providers feel competent.
- Part of the job - some information providers may be answering questions as part of their employment, because there are commercial versions of Apache available.
Policy Implications as Stated By Author
- It is important to analyse the micro-level functioning of successful open source projects to really understand how and why they work.
- It would be useful to conduct similar empirical studies to explore other puzzling aspects of how an open source project functions such as: how is coordination achieved among open source software contributors; how can problems be segmented into module of a size that fit the sources and incentives of individual users to effectively contribute?
- The learning gained from such micro-studies of a range of tasks may well turn out to cumulate to some general principles. For example, it is interesting to discover that learning on the part of contributors is an important motivator in the case of the relatively “mundane” task of help-provision.
- The learning gained can also help with the design of the next generation of open source projects and similar, user-based innovation systems.
Coverage of Study
|Level of aggregation:||Individual|
|Period of material under study:||1999-2000|