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Open Source Givers and Takers

Mike Loukides over at O’Reilly Radar has an article about open-source metrics and how to quantify the open-source model. He writes:

Dana Blankenhorn’s recent ZDNet blog points to Accenture’s “hockey stick for open source” and notes that while 69 percent of the companies Accenture surveyed plan to increase their open source investment in the next year, only 29 percent plan to contribute back to the open source community. That sounds very plausible. But is it a problem? I’m not so sure.

First, I don’t think “all take and no give” is a failure. Or even a problem. If you’re giving, you shouldn’t be surprised if people take. If you’re taking something that’s been freely given, you shouldn’t feel obliged to give back. If you do, that’s great. And if you’re a giver, you should be glad that people are taking, whether or not you’re getting something back in return.

Second, “how many companies plan to contribute” isn’t the right metric. One of the things I’ve learned from my involvement in industry is that the most successful and effective groups are small. The right metric is “are there enough contributors to move the project forward?” For the key projects (like Apache), clearly the answer is “yes.” “Enough” is much more important than “how many.” The last thing we need are projects that slow to a crawl because of the bloated development-by-committee that characterizes many corporate environments.

Clearly, he’s talking here about open-source software, but the ideas are bigger than that, and can be applied to hardware just as easily. As OSH continues to grow, using the right metrics to provide meaningful insight will become more important, particularly for larger collaborative projects.


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1 Comment

  1. I think the author misunderstands two things:

    First, Open Source Software took off with the ‘net precisely because a small group of authors could service a disproportionately large audience. It is a strength, not a weakness, that one author can have a million users.

    Second, there is a concept in marketing and innovation (read “The Innovators’ Dilemma” by Christensen) of a “value network.” It means (among other things) that users have great value just as users. They empower creators by just being there. And of course if they rise to evangelism it goes beyond that. The users then become active extenders of the value network.

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