Advancing Economic Research on the Free and Open Source Software Mode of Production
Early contributions to the academic literature on free/libre and open source software (F/LOSS) movements have been directed primarily at identifying the motivations that account for the sustained and often intensive involvement of many people in this non-contractual and unremunerated productive activity. This issue has been particularly prominent in economists’ contributions to the literature, and it reflects a view that widespread voluntary participation in the creation of economically valuable goods that is to be distributed without charge constitutes a significant behavioral anomaly. Undoubtedly, the motivations of F/LOSS developers deserve to be studied more intensively, but not because their behaviors are unique, or historically unprecedented. In this essay we argue that other aspects of the “open source” phenomenon are just as intriguing, if not more so, and possibly are also more consequential topics for economic analysis. We describe the re-focusing and re-direction of empirical and theoretical research in an integrated international project (based at Stanford University/SIEPR) that aims at better understanding a set of less widely discussed topics: the modes of organization, governance and performance of F/LOSS development -- viewed as a collective distributed mode of production.. We discuss of the significance of tackling those questions in order to assess the potentialities of the “open source way of working” as a paradigm for a broader class of knowledge and information- goods production, and conclude with proposals for the trajectory of future research along that line.