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Dynamics of innovation in an “open source” collaboration environment: lurking, laboring, and launching FLOSS projects on SourceForge

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  • Paul A. David
  • Francesco Rullani

Abstract

A systems analysis perspective is adopted to examine the critical properties of the Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) mode of innovation, as reflected on the SourceForge platform ( SF.net ). This approach re-scales March's ( 1991 ) framework and applies it to characterize the “innovation system” of a “distributed organization” of interacting agents in a virtual collaboration environment, rather than to innovation within a firm. March ( 1991 ) views the process of innovation at the organizational level as the coupling of sub-processes of exploration and exploitation. Correspondingly, the innovation system of the virtual collaboration environment represented by SF.net is an emergent property of two “coupled” processes: one involves the interactions among agents searching the locale for information and knowledge resources to use in designing novel software products (i.e., exploration ), and the other involves the mobilization of individuals’ capabilities for application in the software development projects that become established on the platform (i.e., exploitation ). The micro-dynamics of this system are studied empirically by constructing transition probability matrices representing the movements of 222,835 SF.net users among seven different activity states, which range from “lurking” (not contributing or contributing to projects without becoming a member) to “laboring” (joining one or more projects as members), and to “launching” (founding one or more projects) within each successive 6-month interval. The estimated probabilities are found to form first-order Markov chains describing ergodic processes. This makes it possible the computation of the equilibrium distribution of agents among the states, thereby suppressing transient effects and revealing persisting patterns of project joining and project launching. The latter show the FLOSS innovation process on SF.net to be highly dissipative: a very large proportion of the registered “developers” fail to become even minimally active on the platform. There is nevertheless an active core of mobile project joiners, and a (still smaller) core of project founders who persist in creating new projects. The structure of these groups’ interactions (as displayed within the 3-year period examined) is investigated in detail, and it is shown that it would be sufficient to sustain both the exploration and exploitation phases of the platform's global dynamics. Copyright 2008 , Oxford University Press.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Oxford University Press in its journal Industrial and Corporate Change.

Volume (Year): 17 (2008)
Issue (Month): 4 (August)
Pages: 647-710

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Handle: RePEc:oup:indcch:v:17:y:2008:i:4:p:647-710

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Cited by:
  1. Engelhardt, Sebastian v. & Freytag, Andreas, 2013. "Institutions, culture, and open source," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 90-110.
  2. Landini, Fabio, 2012. "Technology, property rights and organizational diversity in the software industry," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 137-150.
  3. Sebastian von Engelhardt & Andreas Freytag & Christoph Schulz, 2013. "On the Geographic Allocation of Open Source Software Activities," International Journal of Innovation in the Digital Economy (IJIDE), IGI Global, vol. 4(2), pages 25-39, April.
  4. Francesco Rullani & Francesco Zirpoli, 2013. "Coordination of joint search in distributed innovation processes: Lessons from the effects of initial code release in Open Source Software development," Working Papers 20, Department of Management, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia.
  5. Rullani, Francesco & Haefliger, Stefan, 2013. "The periphery on stage: The intra-organizational dynamics in online communities of creation," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 42(4), pages 941-953.
  6. Landini, Fabio, 2013. "Institutional change and information production," Journal of Institutional Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 9(03), pages 257-284, September.
  7. Ghafele, Roya & Gibert, Benjamin, 2012. "Efficiency through openness: the economic value proposition of open source software," MPRA Paper 38088, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  8. Koch, Stefan, 2008. "Effort modeling and programmer participation in open source software projects," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 345-355, December.
  9. David, Paul A. & Shapiro, Joseph S., 2008. "Community-based production of open-source software: What do we know about the developers who participate?," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 364-398, December.

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