[SATLUG] F/OSS motivations

Todd W. Bucy toddwbucy at grandecom.net
Tue Aug 12 20:57:26 CDT 2008

> 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 
> contributors.
>   -- Bruce

The paper that I am writting is an anthropology p[aper, so I am not too
concered with the negative connotations that "gift-economy" may have.
this is especially true in that I am not attempting to imply any
particular ideological designation with this term.  Rather I use the
term typologically to describe a particular economic context.

As it concerns my use of the term maybe I should define it very
explicitly so that we may avoid any of the negative connotations which
the phrase may imply.  For our purposes here the first paragraph of the
wikipedia entry will suffice:
"A gift economy is a social theory[1] in which goods and services are
given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future quid pro
quo. Typically, a gift economy occurs in a culture or subculture that
emphasizes social or intangible rewards for solidarity and generosity:
karma, honor, loyalty or other forms of gratitude.  In some cases,
simultaneous or recurring giving serves to circulate and redistribute
valuables within a community. This can be considered a form of
reciprocal altruism. Sometimes there is an implicit expectation of the
return of comparable goods or services, political support, or the gift
being later passed on to a third party. However, in what is considered
to be in the true spirit of gift economics, many times giving is done
without any expectation of reciprocity"

the economic context of the F/OSS community certainly seems to operate
as a gift economy regardless of any negative connotation.  That said,
there is no theoretical reason why a gift economy and a commodity
economy can't co-exist within a larger cultural context.  After all
Christmas, birthday presents, house warming gifts, ect. have all seemed
to survive within our commodity driven market economy.

finally could you please be more explicit about the negative
connotations which surround the term gift economy.  I have an idea of
what you are talking about but it is not very firm and I would like to
be on the same page as you in this discussion so that we dont talk past
each other.

Thanks for the response

More information about the SATLUG mailing list