Why Do Developers Contribute to Open Source Projects? First Evidence of Economic Incentives

TitleWhy Do Developers Contribute to Open Source Projects? First Evidence of Economic Incentives
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsHann, Il-Horn, Roberts Jeff, Slaughter Sandra, and Fielding Roy
Secondary TitleProceedings of the 2nd ICSE Workshop on Open Source
Keywordsapache, contributions, cvs, developers, ECONOMICS, email, email archives, financial, Human capital, mailing list, MOTIVATION, participation, source code, version control

The availability of commercial quality, free software products such as the Apache HTTP (web) server or the Linux operating system has focused significant attention on the open source development process by which these products were created. One of the more perplexing aspects of open source software projects is why developers freely devote their time and energy to these projects. While many open source participants cite idealistic motives for participation, Lerner and Tirole (2000) argue that developer participation in open source projects may, in part, be explained by existing economic theory regarding career concerns. This research seeks to confirm or disconfirm the existence of economic returns to participation in open source development. Preliminary results of our empirical investigation suggest that greater open source participation per se, as measured in contributions made, does not lead to wage increases. However, a higher status in a merit-based ranking within the Apache Project does lead to significantly higher wages. This suggests that employers do not reward the gain in experience through open source participation as an increase in human capital. The results are also consistent with the notion that a high rank within the Apache Software Foundation is a credible signal of the productive capacity of a programmer.


"The data for this research come from two primary sources: Apache project archives and a targeted survey of Apache participants. Archival data are open source project artifacts such as email and source code archives, source code version control meta-data and developer web sites."

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