Book: Motivation in Open Source Communities

Lambert Publishing


I have always been interested in motivation and behavior. Money have never been my main objective, and it is the same thing for the many developers that are working on open source projects. Therefore I decided to write a book that looks into how true motivation almost always comes from inner rewards rather than external. Partly because I think it is an interesting subject, partly because I believe that truly understanding the human nature is vital for coming up with good ideas. The book was published by Lambert Publishing and can be bought on Amazon.


Motivation in open source book


Introduction Chapter

The alarm clock wakes you up in the crack of the dawn, forces you to drag yourself to work. To many people, going to work feels like a punishment. When the clock finally turns 5, the liberation in your heart is synonymous to a prisoner who has been sitting behind bars for a crime that he is not responsible for; you can finally leave the chair that you have been sitting in for the past 8 hours with handcuffs over your wrists, preventing you from doing what you really like. The jury that has judged the prisoner could resemble to the norms of our society if you were not doing your duty; you would be socially butchered.

After work you have a couple of hours left of the day to do what you love before you have to go to bed and prepare yourself for the next workday. Your hobby, the interest that is intrinsic stimulating to you, is subordinated to the social peer pressure from society. Work and hobby have for centuries been mentioned as either or, like if we were talking about Ying and Yang or God and Satan. But the world has changed and a new era is striving to leave the inhibitory shell behind and see the light of the day. A whole generation of individuals has grown up with constant access to communication and information which have created a transparency that blurs the distinction between work and leisure. This is especially obvious in open source software development.


An Era of Scarcity

The post-war generation was raised in an era of scarcity where it was honorable to put your time in and serve the higher powers of greater good (Turner et al.). This view often made it impossible to unite your passion with work, and the motives could therefore rarely develop into intrinsic. Turner & Baylor describes the focus of the “boomers” as “feeding the giant machine of consumption” – work transforms into money that people can spend. When status is the same as owning, the society has its population in an iron claw.

While human owns physical mass, the society owns them. Plato mentions “Askholia” – slavery (Himanen). As Himanen puts it: “The evening was the leftover of the day, the weekend the remainder of the week, and the retirement was the leftovers of life”. Programming have for long been regarded as leisure time activity, but you no longer have to be a hacker in order to develop open source software. In fact, a survey made by Ghosh shows that half of the developers in his study of open source developers were paid (Ghosh).


The Amateur Explosion

An explosion of creativity and generous behavior has occurred that promotes amateur innovation (Shirky). The digital culture that has arisen has many names. One is Generation Generosity, a subculture who is disgusted by greed and is eager to share, give, create, engage and collaborate in large numbers (Trendwatching). The new generation is community-oriented, gets pleasure of giving instead of taking and is characterized by speed, freedom, openness, innovation, mobility, authenticity and playfulness (Tapscott & Williams).

Sharing a passion and receiving recognition are the new symbols for status (the word “amateur” heritages from the Latin word ”to love”) (Pressley). Csikszentmihalyi refers to Deci, who found that when people were giving money for doing things they enjoyed, they lost interest faster than when they were not rewarded (Csikszentmihalyi).

Steven Pressley has a more cynical view of the amateur culture. While she describes the conventional interpretation as the amateur doing something out of pure love, Pressley mean that amateurs don‘t love the game enough. If they did, they wouldn‘t do it as a sideline. Herzberg on the other hand means that “the hobby becomes a substitute for the job in the sense of satisfaction, but the hobby can’t give the complete sense of growth, the sense of striving towards a meaningful goal, that can be found in one’s life work” (Herzberg).


Previous Work

The heart of this book is those earlier studies, surveys and papers that have been made by the leading researchers in the field. The two psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan‘s work about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have been important, and so have Himanen and Lahkani´s research on hacker culture. Oreg & Nov, Bonaccorsi & Rossi, Von Hippel & Von Krogh, Krishnamurthy, Lerner & Tirole, Hars & Ou and Bitzer is just a few of those researchers that has tried to clarify why volunteers are contributing to projects even when there are no monetary compensation looming.

Other important material have been gathered from Bergquist & Ljungberg on the subject of gift giving, and also from Zeitlyn that have shed light on the art of gift giving from a anthropological point of view. There are however little research when it comes to the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation meeting in the same arena; most earlier research deals with the two motivations separately.


The Goal of this Book

Building upon the pride heritage of these thinkers and writers, my purpose of this book is to investigate how paid and unpaid developers are affecting each other with their presence and how intrinsic and extrinsic motivations are correlating when paid and unpaid contributors meet and work together. Knowing the answer to this would be useful since the open source in fast pace are becoming an accepted way of working (not only within software development) and the efficiency of the proved effective open source method might be affected if paid and unpaid contributors is influencing each other‘s motivation.

I also want to see if the paid contributors intrinsic motivation may be gained when paid and unpaid developers working together, since it is my personal belief that work that is rooted in your heart always will be more qualitative than work done for money. If intrinsic motivations can be increased at those who are extrinsic motivated, it is my theory that both productivity and quality may increase.


July 2011

Lambert Publishing