Re: Open Source Writing

Subject: Re: Open Source Writing
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 20 Feb 2003 18:19:55 -0800

Andrew Plato wrote:

A lot of people donate tremendous amounts of time to open source projects only
to never receive a damn thing in return. Its awfully hard to motivate people
when there is no money involved.
If that's so, then why do so many people get involved?

As I wrote in another post, economic determinism just doesn't explain the open source phenomenon. Probably the best ways to explain it are either reciprocity (people contribute knowing that what they do may encourage others to make a contribution that they find useful), or as the difference between external and intrinsic rewards. Many people are motivated by external rewards, such as money. In business, it's often assumed that external rewards are the only ones that matter. However, in the open source community, the rewards are largely intrinsic: the feeling of being generous, the chance to be part of a larger group, extra time for doing what you love, or the receipt of recognition. Considering the number of introverts among developers, it's not really surprising that intrinsic rewards should motivate the open source community than external ones.

2. Its not a democracy

Most open source projects are monarchies. There is a single, or very small
clique, of all-powerful people and everybody else is a grunt. If the people on
top don't like your ideas, or you're taking too much glory from them, you will
be promptly ignored. Likewise, if you work hard and are dedicated to the cause,
you can win the attention of those on-top and maybe earn some power. Needless
to say, there is a LOT of politics inside open source projects. If you know the
right people, you'll do okay. If you disagree with those above you, you're
quickly cast out.
I think your comments are important to counter-act any impression that the open source movement is some sort of utopia. People are people, and squabbles are going to arise.

However, I have to add that, contrary to your statement, on the whole open source projects are far more democratic than others in the IT world. Anyone, for example, can register at and file bugs and enhancement requests. Similarly, Debian developers can vote on the Project Leader; they're doing that right now, as a matter of fact.

It's true, though, that the more involved you are, and the more you contribute, the more voice you are likely to have in a project. Rather than say that open source projects are not a democracy, it might be accurate to say that they are a meritocracy.

Bruce Byfield bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com 604.421.7177

"Take six politicians to dig me a grave,
Take six intellectuals my soul for to save,
And six union workers, a red flag to wave
And one stupid singer to rant and to rave."
- The Men They Couldn't Hang, "Industrial Town"


Buy or upgrade to RoboHelp X3 today and receive the WebHelp
Merge Module for FREE ($299 value). RoboHelp X3's all-new
features include conditional text, completely re-engineered
printed documentation output, Context-sensitive Help Toolkit,
single-source layouts, and more!
Order online today at

You are currently subscribed to techwr-l as:
archive -at- raycomm -dot- com
To unsubscribe send a blank email to leave-techwr-l-obscured -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com
Send administrative questions to ejray -at- raycomm -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Open Source Writing: From: Andrew Plato

Previous by Author: Re: Writing for the Open Source Community
Next by Author: Re: And more on open source...
Previous by Thread: Re: Open Source Writing
Next by Thread: 'Missing Program File' advised by Norton System Works - PROBLEM SOLVED

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads