How Open Source Software Works: 'Free' User-to-User Assistance?

21 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2001 Last revised: 7 Jul 2022

See all articles by Eric A. von Hippel

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 Institute for Quantitative Social Science; Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society

Date Written: May 1, 2000

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.

Keywords: open source software; User support; User innovation; Intrinsic motivation; Virtual community

Suggested Citation

von Hippel, Eric and Lakhani, Karim R., How Open Source Software Works: 'Free' User-to-User Assistance? (May 1, 2000). Research Policy, Vol. 32, No. 6, 2003, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=290305 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.290305

Eric Von Hippel (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) - Sloan School of Management ( email )

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Karim R. Lakhani

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Group ( email )

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United States
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Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science ( email )

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Harvard University - Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society ( email )

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