2006/26 LEM Working Paper Series

Micro-dynamics of Free and Open Source Software Development.
Lurking, laboring and launching new projects on SourceForge

Paul A. David, Francesco Rullani
Open source software, Collaborative development environments, Industrial districts, Project founding, Project joining, Entrepreneurship and social communication skills, SourceForge, Markov chain models.

Quantitative methods are employed to describe two fundamental processes in the creation of free (libre) and open source software (FLOSS) that are at work in the collaborative development environment of the SourceForge.Net platform: resource mobilization and "entrepreneurial initiatives" which generate new development projects. The micro dynamics of the individuals' involvements in these processes are analysed by defining "activity states" that correspond to "lurking" (not contributing or contributing to projects without become a member), "laboring" (joining one or more projects as members), and "launching" (founding one or more projects). The transition probability matrices constructed from observations on the activities of 222,835 individuals who registered on SF.net (during a 14-month period, mainly in 2001) characterize first-order Markov chains describing processes that are ergodic. The computation of the limiting "equilibrium" distribution of individual joining and launching activities is not used here to produce long-run predictions, because the time window of the available data is too short. Instead, it is conceived as an instrument to isolate the main forces acting in the underlying entrepreneurial and recruitment dynamics at work on the platform "shaking off" the weaker tendencies. It is shown that, although only a small proportion of the considered cohorts of SF.net registrants become even minimally active, the active "core" of project members and project founders is able to attract an increasing number of developers. SourceForge is seen to be more than an attractor of projects that are being "born again" under open source licenses: this virtual collaborative development environment shares the regenerative properties of tangible "industrial districts" that give rise to new, innovative enterprises. Implications for the exploitation and exploitation processes at work in the FLOSS model and about its sustainability are also derived.

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