How Open Source Software Works: 'Free' User-to-User Assistance?
Eric A. von Hippel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management
Karim R. Lakhani
Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group; Harvard University - Berkman Center for Internet & Society; Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science
MIT Sloan Working Paper No. 4117-00
Open source software products represent the leading edge of innovation development and diffusion systems conducted for and by users themselves - no manufacturer required. Research into this phenomenon has so far focused on how the major tasks of software development are organized and motivated. But a complete user system requires the execution of "mundane but necessary" tasks as well. In this paper, we explore how the mundane but necessary task of field support for open source Apache server software is organized, and how and why users are motivated to participate in providing it. We find that the present system works well and that information providers are largely rewarded by benefits directly received from a related task. We also find, however, that the present help system is by and for only a few - and that changes would be needed if and as volume increases. General lessons for user-based innovation systems includes the clear willingness of users to openly reveal their proprietary information. This bodes well for the efficiency of user-only innovation systems. Open revealing is rational behavior if the information has low competitive value and/or if information providers think that other users know the same thing they do, and would reveal the information if they did not.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 40
Date posted: November 19, 2001
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