Motivation, governance, and the viability of hybrid forms in open source software development

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Citation: Sonali K. Shah (2006) Motivation, governance, and the viability of hybrid forms in open source software development. Management Science (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1287/mnsc.1060.0553
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1287/mnsc.1060.0553
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1287/mnsc.1060.0553
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Motivation, governance, and the viability of hybrid forms in open source software development
Tagged: Business (RSS) FLOSS (RSS), Governance (RSS)


Published in a special issue of Management Science on issues related to FLOSS, Shah's article is a qualitative, grounded-theory, and case-study based comparison of two communities. She compares two products (neither of which she identifies):

  • An open source project under a major umbrella organization under a permissive license (e.g., an Apache project);
  • What Shah calls a gated source community essentially controlled by a company that requires license agreements in order to contribute or redistribute (e.g., something like Sun).

Methodologically, Shah uses statistically non-representative sampling to interview a variety of different types of contributes to both projects for a total of 88 interviews.

Her basic finding is that there are two types of participants: need driven and hobbyist participants. While the FLOSS community has participants of both types, the gated source community essentially has only need driven users. She summarizes her key findings as:

  1. FLOSS contributors join communities to satisfy a need but often keep contributing because they enjoy it and these volunteer/hobbyist are critically important to the community.
  2. Reciprocity is an important factor driving the contribution of code to the community.
  3. The governance structure of the community dramatically affects the participation choices of volunteer contributors.

Other interesting findings were that Shah found almost evidence for reputation or status based concerns in her community. When asked explicitly (after almost never volunteering this information) users claimed that these were not motivated and Shah was convinced.

She sets up a number of interesting tensions faced by firms working on FLOSS. For example, she argues that: "activities that permit value appropriation by the firm are sometime detrimental to value creation within the community." She explores this concept in some depth by looking at the means of control, governance, and value appropriation used by firms and the effects that these can have in communities (and in her communities in particular).

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

The paper has been cited more than a hundred times, almost all in the phenomena-focused literature on FLOSS. The paper is particularly important as one of the early and most important articles on governance and on the relationship between firms and community in FLOSS and in other peer production projects.