Managing Firm-Sponsored Open Source Communities

TitleManaging Firm-Sponsored Open Source Communities
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsStoveland, JF
Date PublishedMay

The interest and use of open source software and methodology has gained an increasing amount of commercial attention, and we are currently witnessing that established proprietary software firms are taking a step further by opening their own software projects in an attempt to create firm-sponsored open source communities. Siobhan O'Mahony's research finds that these firms have to handle a tension between openness and control in their product development, but little research has been done to detail how this balance is achieved. I have studied the American software company Novell and the openSUSE project, largely guided by an inductive, qualitative approach supplemented by some quantitative methods. In the study I draw upon Niklas Luhmann's theory of autopoietic social systems to create a distinction between the sponsor firm and the sponsored community, and I investigate the mechanisms that hold the two systems together despite their differences in interests. I argue that there are several elements that ensure a tight coupling between the two systems, including the boundary objects situated between them, the shared communication channels and the efforts of the marginal people whom have roles in both systems. A primary contribution to the theory of boundary objects is a distinction between what I describe as supportive-objects and target-objects. I argue that the latter holds a strong motivating power that should be appended to our understanding of individuals' and collectives' motivation to participate in open source software projects. I explore several possible future scenarios for the evolution of firm-sponsored communities, and find that Novell is pursuing a strategy for managing openness in such a community.

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