From a Firm-Based to a Community-Based Model of Knowledge Creation: The Case of the Linux Kernel Development

TitleFrom a Firm-Based to a Community-Based Model of Knowledge Creation: The Case of the Linux Kernel Development
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsLee, Gwendolyn K., and Cole Robert E.
Secondary TitleOrganization Science
Paginationpp. 633-649
ISSN Number10477039
Keywordscredits, developers, email, email archives, knowledge creation, linux kernel, mailing list, maintainers, scm, source code, Survey, Volunteers

We propose a new model of knowledge creation in purposeful, loosely coordinated, distributed systems, as an alternative to a firm-based one. Specifically, using the case of the Linux kernel development project, we build a model of community-based, evolutionary knowledge creation to study how thousands of talented volunteers, dispersed across organizational and geographical boundaries, collaborate via the Internet to produce a knowledge-intensive, innovative product of high quality. By comparing and contrasting the Linux model with the traditional/commercial model of software development and firm-based knowledge creation efforts, we show how the proposed model of knowledge creation expands beyond the boundary of the firm. Our model suggests that the product development process can be effectively organized as an evolutionary process of learning driven by criticism and error correction. We conclude by offering some theoretical implications of our community-based model of knowledge creation for the literature of organizational learning, community life, and the uses of knowledge in society.


"we study the Linux development community mainly by analyzing the artifacts that the Linux developers have produced. A key output of knowledge creation activities is the artifacts. The most important artifact, of course, is the Linux operating system source code."
"Along with the source code, a "Credits" text file and a "MAINTAINERS" text file are distributed to the users."
"An equally important artifact is the development activities archived in the Linux-kernel mailing list"..."Using the weekly Linux-kernel email archive for years 1995 to 2000 as a key source of data, we focus on people who have sent at least one email to the Linux-kernel mailing list. "
"In addition, we examine the developers' demographic distributions, working patterns, and motivations by analyzing the raw data from an on-line survey"