Currently, two models of innovation are prevalent in organization science. The “private investment” model assumes returns to the innovator result from private goods and efficient regimes of intellectual property protection. The “collective action” model assumes that under conditions of market failure, innovators collaborate in order to produce a public good. The phenomenon of open source software development shows that users program to solve their own as well as shared technical problems, and freely reveal their innovations without appropriating private returns from selling the software. In this paper, we propose that open source software development is an exemplar of a compound “private-collective” model of innovation that contains elements of both the private investment and the collective action models and can offer society the “best of both worlds” under many conditions. We describe a new set of research questions this model raises for scholars in organization science. We offer some details regarding the types of data available for open source projects in order to ease access for researchers who are unfamiliar with these, and also offer some advice on conducting empirical studies on open source software development processes.
Main Results of the Study
- There are many interesting puzzles in open source software research projects that can trigger the interest of organization scholars for years to come. Answering some of them might even lead to substantial rethinking of the very concept of "organization for innovation" and a better understanding of innovation among distributed users who derive utility from freely revealing their information-based innovation to produce a collective good.
- Most open source projects are hosted on a few major sites like Sourceforge.net.
- Records of what is “committed” to the official code and by whom, is recorded in a publicly accessible Concurrent Versioning System (CVS) log. In many projects the privilege of adding authorized code to the CVS is restricted to only a few trusted developers.
- Interactions among project members are generally posted in the form of messages on public Internet sites maintained by projects.
Policy Implications as Stated By Author
- Researchers should be aware that much user communication happens beyond public email. Thus, Internet Relay Chat (real time chatting on the Internet), private email, or direct communication between users can have significant value for studies of motives, incentives, community development, coordination, and technical decision-making in projects
- Interpretation of subtle matters relevant to organization researchers will be aided by having a good a contextual and behavioral understanding of project activities, and a broad set of data and methods might then be valuable.
- It can be very useful to create an "intellectual genealogy" for an open source development project at an early stage in an empirical research project
Coverage of Study
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