Working for free? Motivations for participating in open-source projects

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Citation: Alexander Hars, Shaosong Ou (2002) Working for free? Motivations for participating in open-source projects. International Journal of Electronic Commerce (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): Working for free? Motivations for participating in open-source projects
Tagged: Psychology (RSS) FLOSS (RSS), Electronic Commerce (RSS), motivation (RSS), open source (RSS)


Hars and Ou article is perhaps the first published article on motivation in FLOSS -- published just before Some simple economics of open source by Lerner and Tirole. The article is short and shallow but touch on a number of issues that will become key in the literature over time.

The article is largely framed in terms of questions of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation although the breakdown is more complicated and includes intrinsic, altruism, community identification, future rewards, and personal needs as first-level possible classes of motivation.

The empirical analysis involved a survey send to 389 people selected from FLOSS mailing lists in a process that was somewhat unclear. The response rate was 21% and resulted in 81 responses from contributors on a surprisingly large number (and variety) of projects.

The authors present some basic demographic information (e.g., 95% were male) and breakdown in motivations. They found that a large number of respondents were paid but that was a large diversity of different types of motivations. In support of subsequent findings by Shah (2006), they found that students and hobbyists tended to be motivated more intrinsically while paid laborers were motivated more by personal need.

They conclude that motivations are complicated, and largely mixed, but that FLOSS is pulling from a variety of different sources.

See also

Motivating content contributions to online communities: Toward a more comprehensive theory

Theoretical and Practical Relevance

As an early article writing on a subject of much subsequent interest, Hars and Ou's article has gone on to be cited hundreds of times in the last decade. It is continues to be a frequent citation for work on FLOSS and on motivation or demographics of participants in particular.