Micro-dynamics of Free and Open Source Software Development. Lurking, laboring and launching new projects on SourceForge
Quantitative methods are employed to describe two fundamental processes in the creation of free (libre) and open source software (FLOSS) that are at work in the collaborative development environment of the SourceForge.Net platform: resource mobilization, and “entrepreneurial initiatives” which generate new development projects. The micro dynamics of the individuals’ involvements in these processes are analysed by defining “activity states” that correspond to “lurking” (contributing to projects without become a member), “laboring” (joining one or more projects as members), and “launching” (founding one or more projects). The transition probability matrices constructed from observations on the activities of 222,835 individuals who registered on SF.net (during a 14-month period, mainly in 2001) characterize first-order Markov chains describing processes that are ergodic. The existence of a limiting “equilibrium” distribution of individual joining and launching activities is used to abstract from effects of transient disturbances (arising from the flow of new registrations), in order to reveal the implications of the underlying entrepreneurial and recruitment dynamics at work on the platform. Although only a small proportion of this cohort of SF.net registrants become even minimally active, and a still smaller proportion among those join projects, the active “core” of project members still numbers in the tens of thousands, and their ranks contain well more a thousand who found new projects. SourceForge is seen to be more than an attractor of projects that are being “born again” under open source licenses: this virtual collaborative development environment shares the regenerative properties of tangible “industrial districts” that give rise to new, innovative enterprises.
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