Why Do Episodic Volunteers Stay in FLOSS Communities?

Abstract: Successful Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects incorporate both habitual and infrequent, or episodic, contributors. Using the concept of episodic volunteering (EV) from the general volunteering literature, we derive a model consisting of five key constructs that we hypothesize affect episodic volunteers’ retention in FLOSS communities. To evaluate the model we conducted a survey and received responses from over 100 FLOSS episodic volunteers. We observe that three of the constructs (social norms, satisfaction and community commitment) are all positively associated with volunteers’ intention to remain, while the two other constructs (psychological sense of community and contributor benefit motivations) are not. Furthermore, exploratory clustering on unobserved heterogeneity suggests that there are four distinct categories of volunteers: satisfied, classic, social and obligated. Based on our findings, we offer suggestions for projects to incorporate and manage episodic volunteers, so as to better leverage this type of contributors and potentially improve projects’ sustainability.

Keywords: Community management, episodic volunteering, open source software, volunteer management

Reference: Barcomb, A., Stol KJ, Riehle, D., & Fitzgerald, B. (2019). Why Do Episodic Volunteers Stay in FLOSS Communities? In Proceedings of the 41st International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE 2019), pp. 948-959.

The paper is available as a PDF file.

Should The Public Sector Use Open Source Software? 1/4

I was asked several questions by a journalist about open source and the public sector. I’m answering them here in sequence. This is the first of four blog posts and the first question was: Should the public sector use open source software?

The public sector and public governments should use the software that lets them provide the desired services best, long-term. How much open source software this involves is secondary, in my opinion.

That said: Like any industry, the public sector already uses substantial amounts of open source software by way of open source components built into commercial proprietary product. Estimates of the percentage of open source code in commercial products and services go as high as 80-90% of the total code. Open source is everywhere, including in Microsoft Windows and Office.

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What Software Vendors Don’t Seem to Understand About University Teaching

I often get approached by software vendors with the suggestion that I teach a course using one of their product tutorials. There are plenty of open source databases, operating systems, and cloud computing solutions who want to make it into my curriculum. Of course, vendors don’t always call their product tutorials by that name, but use labels like college-level courses or the like, but this doesn’t change the content: They are still product tutorials. I can’t teach those and no self-respecting professor will ever do this. Let me explain.

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Scrum’s Product Vision vs. Project Mission

As noted previously, Scrum uses the term product to mean artifact. This is fine, as long as the user of Scrum is a software vendor, developing a product for a market. It is confusing, however, if the user is a consulting firm, performing a custom project for a client. If you are a consulting firm, you are not delivering a product, and every time you hear product, you need to think artifact.

The confusion is worst when we talk about a product vision. As always, there are many competing definitions and confused ones at that, but we can safely assume that a product vision is at least a particular type of vision. About a vision, by definition, we know that it is time-less. It describes an abstract future state that we want to achieve, but never actually can reach. As such, a vision serves as a guiding north star for the decisions we make about on-going work. IBM’s vision is (shortened) “client success”, SAP’s is “improved economy”, etc. Any number of management books expound on what a vision is so you can read more there.

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How Project vs. Product Confuses Agile Methods Terminology

In a previous blog post I noted how the terms project and product are being confused in open source. However, it is agile methods, specifically Scrum, where it gets really bad. To recap: A project is a human undertaking to create an artifact. A project, by definition, has a start date and an end date. A product, in contrast, is an artifact (not an undertaking) that is born but typically has no planned end date. Most vendors, selling products to a market, hope they can do this forever.

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How Project vs. Product Confuses Open Source Terminology

The terms project and product are used with continued confusion. Both open source and agile methods are particularly bad offenders, leading people astray. Adapted straight from the textbooks:

  • A project is a human undertaking with the goal of creating an artifact. Its life-cycle is determined by a start date and an end date.
  • A product is a human-made artifact for a market of customers with an open-ended llfe-cycle. It is born with no end date in sight.

Not always, but typically, a project is used to create a custom artifact, while a product is (by definition) made for a market, that is, many different customers.

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Internal Component Marketplaces vs. Transfer Pricing of Inner Source

I was recently asked why I argue against company-internal marketplaces for software components yet emphasize the need for pricing components that cross company boundaries within the same holding company (also known as transfer pricing). The answer is simple: Setting up an internal marketplace is a managerial choice and pricing the movement of code (IP) across company boundaries is a taxable event that you need to deal with: It is not a choice.

Let me take it in steps.

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Open Source License Compliance in Free Mobile Apps

Open source license compliance is not for the faint of heart. Among many things, a company needs to tell the recipients of a distribution which open source software is used in their products. In the case of mobile apps, free or not, the user is the recipient and the app is the distribution. Downloading an app from the app store makes me a user. Lets see what we can learn about open source using an example app.

The following four screenshots show how I made my way from finding an app through installing and starting it. I could not find any information about the distributed open source code along the way.

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Some Argue That Dual-Licensing in Commercial Open Source Indicates a Lack of Ability to Provide Superior Service

This is obviously wrong. The use of dual licensing and the ability to provide superior service for open source are unrelated forms of competitive advantage, and without further circumstances, a business should exploit both advantages. Let me explain.

Dual (or multiple) licensing is a strategy, in which a company develops software, releases it under an aggressively reciprocal (“viral”) license like the AGPLv3 and then offers commercial customers who don’t like the open source license the option to acquire a proprietary license for the software. This is a positional advantage of the vendor, because it is the only company that can apply this strategy (courtesy of being the copyright holder). While I mix things up a bit, it is closely related to what’s been called the open core model or single vendor open source. To maintain this positional advantage, vendors need to follow the commercial open source intellectual property rights imperative.

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The Dancing Robot Dog: Magic Trick or Real Artificial Intelligence?

You may have seen the video below by Boston Dynamics. It shows a robot dog dancing to Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars. It is fun and funny to watch, but people also expressed serious worries about robot inroads into human behavior. However, there is no explanation by Boston Dynamics and it is not at all clear whether this is a simple magic trick created to fool the onlookers or real artificial intelligence (AI) progress.

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