Why open source software can succeed

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Citation: Andrea Bonaccorsi, Cristina Rossi (2003) Why open source software can succeed. Research Policy (RSS)
DOI (original publisher): 10.1016/S0048-7333(03)00051-9
Semantic Scholar (metadata): 10.1016/S0048-7333(03)00051-9
Sci-Hub (fulltext): 10.1016/S0048-7333(03)00051-9
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Why open source software can succeed
Tagged: Business (RSS) FLOSS (RSS), Innovation (RSS)


Bonaccorsi and Rossi frame their article in terms of Schumpter (1934) three-axis description of innovation ask about FLOSS. The authors ask how FLOSS can succeed in terms of motivation, coordination and diffusion. They argue these can be reformulated in the following questions:

  • Why do programmers write FLOSS if nobody pays them?
  • How do FLOSS developers coordinate with each other in the absence of traditional hierarchies?
  • Why is FLOSS becoming so widespread?

The authors essentially answer the first two questions by turning heavily to their understanding of FLOSS and, in particular, from Eric Raymond's influential work. There is very little empirical evidence and, indeed, some evidence taken for granted that subsequent empirical work has debunked. The authors argue that motivation seems handled through other non-payment forms and that coordination seems possible. They raise interesting questions about how what they call "non-sexy" work continues to be done in FLOSS communities.

The more concrete contributions of the article seem to in a computational agent-based diffusion model that the authors run to show how FLOSS can spread in the context of a popular alternative (e.g., Microsoft Windows). The authors show that local-networks (where people care more about what those around them are using) about the prior distributions about beliefs of superiority are important influences which can allow a standard like a FLOSS one to overcome network externalities.

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

Although an early offering in the literature on FLOSS, the article has gone on to be cited several hundred times in the first 7 years of its publication. The authors of continued their work on motivation and FLOSS in a number of subsequent articles -- perhaps the article's most lasting effect.