Skip to comments.Are freeloaders helpful or hurtful to open source communities?
Posted on 06/26/2013 10:01:41 AM PDT by ShadowAce
Concerns are raised every once in a while in the broader free and open source software community about freeloaders. The attitude expressed is that if you're getting the benefit of FOSS, you should contribute. Building a business on a FOSS project you don't own, whether you're providing a service or product around a FOSS project should in return garner some sort of quid pro quo. In reality, freeloaders are desirable.
I think we need to look through the other end of the telescope. The people most often concerned about freeloaders and the free ride are actually the ones with the motivation problemthey expect free work (or "free" customers). I recently wrote about Making Open Source Software. One of the first things required is a motivation to share. One of the next requirements is an ability to collaborate. I believe the people most likely to express concerns about freeloaders seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their work.
You almost never see this concern expressed by a company that is participating in a community it doesn't own. They are obviously happy to be contributing and getting more than they give. They are themselves by definition not freeloaders, and clearly the community is evolved enough that they're probably not the only outside contributing company. Likewise, project founders and committers seem to be happy to see others using their work. All these folks already understand the dynamic. One tends to find the freeloader concern expressed by companies that "own" the open source project.
In a former life as a consultant, I saw companies that own projects raise concerns about contribution and about "giving away their software for free." This is really another way of saying, "we didn't receive the expected contributions in kind." Worse, there would be discussion about users that didn't convert into customers because this would be the only forgivable reason not to contribute. The thinking was, "somebody needs to pay."
Such companies confused customers testing the solution in the user community with genuine community users that aren't convertible leads. The company couldn't initially fathom that developing a community of users around a technology project would:
I have even seen a variation on the freeloader phenomenon in relation to the Google Summer of Code: projects that haven't participated before mistakenly want to get free labour for the summer. The Summer of Code is explicitly designed to enable computer science students to learn about open source software, to gain experience in real-world distributed software development work, and to hone their programming skills. It's about the studentsnot the labour. As the tagline says, "flip bits not burgers." The FOSS project itself certainly benefits with exposure, training their own project members as mentors, and if the project mentors do a good job, they gain committed new blood. But it's not about "getting free work."
It's really about the math of the situation. A number of people have observed over the years that contributions flowing into a FOSS project hold a particular pattern. For every thousand bug reports, a hundred developers will propose a solution in code. Ten will actually read the submission guidelines and fix the entire bug. One will provide a righteous fix and the contributor will have run the test harness provided, and their submission will include new test cases to prove it has been solved. This works for communities with large user bases like MySQL and Sendmail, right down to very specialized communities around such things as graphics drivers.
These observations set the tone for how to think about the vector, because to get a thousand bug reports, you probably need ten thousand users in your community. If the observations are accurate, 90% of every FOSS community must be users that don't contribute so much as a single bug report, i.e. they're freeloaders.
So, it is really about the project motivation. Developing good software is hard work and liberally sharing the software under FOSS licenses and building a community is the best way to spread the economic costs of development and gain inbound domain expertise. Furthermore, if you're a company that owns the actual IP for the software project, you gain the additional benefits (defined above) around developing an engaged community.
Contribution is the lifeblood of the FOSS project, so it needs to be easy to install/configure and use the software to build a broad community of users. It needs to be easy for users to understand how and what to contribute to improve the odds of contribution. If code is the inbound contribution, it needs to be easy for users to become code contributors. Such people need to know what to do, how to get started, and how to contribute. ll of these activities are the project's responsibility. From the contribution flow, a project will find its future committers and maintainers to renew the core development community.
As a project community grows and thrives it will attract businesses that want to use the software and contribute. If the project developers meet the commercial needs for legal risk management, then an ecosystem can thrive around the FOSS project. This adds even more users to the community as companies participate, pulling the project software into new places.
So in the end, it's all about freeloaders, but from the perspective that you want as many as possible. That means you're "doing it right" in developing a broad base of users by making their experience easy, making it easy for them to contribute, and ultimately to create an ecosystem that continues to sustain itself. Freeloaders are essential to the growth and success of every FOSS project.
Someday it will be the definition of "citizenship."
you read it here first.
Open source is communism in an application. I can count on one hand the open source projects that are worth anything, the rest are pos. I vehemently oppose any open source stuff embedded into our applications.
The idea of open source was originally as a thumb of the nose at software makers like Microsoft who don’t release their source code. It made the community responsible for the content of the distributions.
If someone takes OSS, modifies it to their needs, and makes money off of it, they don’t owe the originators of that OSS any money. AS a matter of fact, that’s explicit in the GNU license agreement.
The OSS people are not anti-capitalist, they’re pro-responsibility. I trust open source more that I do MS or Apple.
The people responsible for maintaining and monitoring the code are the original whistleblowers if someone tries to deploy a distro with malicious code.
Then why are you on the internet? Why are you on FR?
Incorrect. FOSS was the original code profile. MS came along and started selling their code--much to the chagrin of the rest of the developer community.
OK I wouldn’t go that far, there are many good open-source projects...
But the open source FANATICS think all software should be free for the masses!!
Most of these freaks I have met work on their pet open-source project while getting paid by someone else to do other things. We had one programmer who always spent half his day workign on an ‘esperonto’ translator...
When you ask them who will feed their children if they were required to program for free- how do they make money? they answer “TECH SUPPORT”!!!
I guess tech support for the crapware they write should NOT be “free for the masses”
He’s also having trouble finding coders. Maybe these are connected?
The correct term for them is “users”. Thinking that everybody using your product should “contribute” to it’s development in someway is one of the things that tells the laymen that make up the majority of your target audience they aren’t actually in your target audience.
I see this at the bottom of the page:
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One of the things I see missing is the potential of hundreds of thousands of people with the potential, due to experience and ability to become contributors, but somewhat removed from the "computer science" field.
Aside from formal colleges and paid schools, in addition to interest, what is missing is some sort of on line beginners, intermediate and advanced training, with real world problems to solve as part of the process.
I know I am interested, as well as many others.
Prior knowledge of astronomy, mathematics and engineering can't hurt. I know the pool is out here. For these people, sharing is never a problem.
FR is not an application that ties into our business model. I do not piggy back of FR for any technological ideas. I come here to listen and sometimes speak.
That wasn’t my understanding, but I am admittedly ignorant of the open source roots. I took my cues from popular collegiate sympathy for open source. I’m in my early 30s, so I came into Linux prior to its popularity.
Would you agree, however, that the open source community has grown into an organic community of self-checking programmers and hackers (non-malicious incarnation of hacker in this case)?
Plus I don’t feed my family on the internet/FR.
The application was perhaps written in c/c++ as well--compilers are open source.
If your application is internet-aware or -capable, then it relies heavily on open source software.
Do you use putty for any connections? FOSS.
My point is that you can't get away from it. It's all around, and you rely on it quite a bit more than you may know.
Ah! That makes sense.
It is all C# with some T-SQL. The MS C++ we have left is quickly being gutted. I said I will not embed any open source into our app. I am firmly aware of how TCP/Ip and other protocols work I have been doing this for over 25 years and started before the internet craze.
The only browsers we support are IE and Firefox (yes I know) but they are entered externally. We do not use any of that code internally.
Yes and most of the problems we do have is the crap we have to talk to.
That’s interesting—at our site, we run both Windows and Linux. The Linux (and FOSS) side of the datacenters are all much more stable and robust than the Windows side.
Has not been my experience for the most part.
It’s an interesting topic. I won’t get into the urinating contest except to say that anyone in the industry knows how much open source software is in use, and I could care less what they think about it.
The point of the article was the ethics of using FOSS without contributing to development, or in what ways they contribute. For example, I have developed hardware that runs with open source software to create a complete solution. The way I see it, I am helping expand awareness and pulling more potential developers in, and thus this form of contribution benefits the software developers as well. However, I get paid for the hardware, while their software is given away for free...and it’s fair to question the equity of that.
Another aspect of contributing, are users who provide suggesting, feature lists, bug reports, etc. considered as “contributing” or merely whining and complaining? Most for-profit companies treasure this “voice of the customer” input highly, but some FOSS developers consider it more of the latter, and instead pursue their own interests and development plans.
It’s an interesting model, and putting altruism and ego aside, there’s got to be a way to reward those who “make” by those who “use”. At the least, a balance should be struck between the demands of users and the desires of developers.
You must have a LOT of fingers.
MP3, Windows, Mac, Linux, internet, tablets, smartphones, GPS, 3-D printing, etc. etc. etc. Do you have a round tire? That sure seems like "open source stuff embedded in our applications."
Open source software is just another production model. If it produces the best code for the best value, that code should be used. Competition includes the voluntary production of products by means that are considered radical.
Like, maybe, when developers feel like it is no longer worth their time they either stop development or they start charging for their work? If the developers want to ignore the freeloaders and follow their own development plan, that might lead us to something better . . . or worse . . . or a fork leading to even more consumer choice.
Concerning your example, what did the developers of the software get in return for their work? They definitely got something. If they hadn't, they wouldn't have built it in the first place. If you feel guilty and feel you need to contribute financially, I'm sure you could approach the community to see what they suggest.
ISTM that a balance is struck in the marketplace and the external imposition of a "more fair" means of striking that balance is a very bad idea.
if its given away there is no such thing as freeloading
That’s just the custom forum software. FR uses open source web server software (NGINX now I believe, though I think it used to be Apache, also open source).
I think you might be right, at least until people remember what being people was all about.
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