Managing the Boundary of an 'Open' Project

51 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2004

See all articles by Siobhan Clare O'Mahony

Siobhan Clare O'Mahony

Boston University School of Management

Fabrizio Ferraro

IESE Business School

Date Written: March 30, 2004


Theorists have speculated how open source software projects with porous boundaries and shifting and indeterminate membership develop code in an open and public environment. This research uses a multi-method approach to understand how one community managed open source software project, Debian, develops a membership process. We examine the project's face-to-face social network during a five-year period (1997-2002) to see how changes in the social structure affect the evolution of membership mechanisms and the determination of gatekeepers. While the amount and importance of a contributor's work increases the probability that a contributor will become a gatekeeper, those more central in the social network are more likely to become gatekeepers and thus influence the membership process. A greater understanding of the mechanisms open projects use to manage their boundaries has critical implications for knowledge producing communities operating in pluralistic, open and distributed environments. It also contributes to our theoretical understanding of how network structures help shape the construction of new social orders.

Keywords: open source software, technical communities, knowledge communities, distributed teams, gatekeepers, accumulative advantage, scale free networks, self managing teams, membership processes, open science, public science

Suggested Citation

O'Mahony, Siobhan Clare and Ferraro, Fabrizio, Managing the Boundary of an 'Open' Project (March 30, 2004). Harvard NOM Working Paper No. 03-60, Available at SSRN: or

Siobhan Clare O'Mahony (Contact Author)

Boston University School of Management ( email )

595 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA MA 02215
United States

Fabrizio Ferraro

IESE Business School ( email )

AV.da Pearson 21
Barcelona, 08034
932534200 (Phone)

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