[SATLUG] F/OSS motivations

Bruce Dubbs bruce.dubbs at gmail.com
Tue Aug 12 14:26:09 CDT 2008

Todd W. Bucy wrote:
> On Tue, 2008-08-12 at 13:32 -0500, Todd W. Bucy wrote:
>> On Tue, 2008-08-12 at 11:40 -0500, Bruce Dubbs wrote:
>>> Todd W. Bucy wrote:
>>>> I am still hacking away at this paper.  The paper looks at F/OSS in
>>>> terms of a gift economy.  
>>> Perhaps you need to look at F/OSS in an alternative way.  I suggest comparing it 
>>> with the idea of academic research and academic freedom.  In other words, the 
>>> quest for knowledge and the desire to share it.  In this case, the desire is not 
>>> as much a "gift economy" as the desire to share ideas and, in return, the 
>>> ability to use other ideas without restriction.
>> This is an angle that I have considered, the only problem is that
>> academic research often takes the form of a gift economy.  If you
>> consider that the product (research and knoledge) is given and shared
>> within the larger academic community without direct compensation
>> expected or given.  This is true if you consider that most professional
>> academic journals do not compensate their authors for articles but
>> slightly less true if you consider that universities compensate most
>> (but not all) researchers within the academic community.  Furthermore, I
>> wouldn't say that the desire of F/OSS is to create an gift-economy,
>> rather the gift economy is the economic form F/OSS has taken and is due
>> to the socio-economic environmental conditions in which it developed.
>> As it concerns gift-economies vs a market or comodity economies the
>> whole idea of sharing or giving without direct and/or pre-agreed upon
>> compensation is the whole point of a gift-economy.  this is definately
>> not true of market or comodity economies.
>> Todd  
> forgot to include that within the F/OSS community (as your response
> demonstrates) it certainly seems apparent that the freedom to share
> within a particular context is extreemly important.  Any restrictions
> upon this sharing of knowledge is seen as damaging to the community as a
> whole, which leads me to believe that the F/OSS community has not only
> demonstrated that gift economies of scale are possible (linux as
> example) but that it is sustainable.  This of course is a criticism of
> rational choice economics of Milton Friedman and other neo-liberal
> theorists.

I think your terminology of "gift economy" is not the best choice and can have 
some negative connotations.  The point is that F/OSS is indeed not monetarily 
based, but there is a currency none the less.  In this case, the currency is new 
contributions to the state of the art.  The ability to view and modify code for 
one's own purposes is the product.  The cost is the donation of one's time (or a 
corporation's resources) and skills back to the "commons".

If you look at the motivations of the contributors to F/OSS in the light of 
Maslow's hierarchy, I think you will find many people operating on the esteem 
and self actualization levels.  Of course, these are only sustainable if the 
lower levels are met.

Corporations don't operate on Maslow's scale, but they do often find the value 
received in F/OSS exceeds the costs.

In my mind, the economy of F/OSS is closer to a trading economy.  The difference 
is that the cost of reproduction is negligible, while the cost of development is 
not.  The fact that there are people who take advantage of the negligible 
reproduction costs without giving anything is not really significant to the 

  -- Bruce

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