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How open source software works: “free” user-to-user assistance

Authors
Journal
Research Policy
0048-7333
Publisher
Elsevier
Publication Date
Volume
32
Issue
6
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1016/s0048-7333(02)00095-1
Keywords
  • Open Source Software
  • User Support
  • User Innovation
  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Virtual Community
Disciplines
  • Computer Science

Abstract

Abstract 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.

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