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The myth of the volunteer open source developer

July 31, 2014

An interesting cluster of articles from last fall drew my attention. One from November entitled “FOSS and the Sublimation of Commodity Fetishism” is an interesting look some factors that others have cited contribute to diversity issues. In short, not everyone can afford to work for free on open source software.

The author writes:
“The participants in F/OSS communities are, in fact, compensated for their labour. Not with money, but with social capital.”

The not compensated with money part is misleading. I’d like to revisit the social capital part in another post later.

A more recent article by Matt Asay, rebutting Quentin Hardy’s “Open Source and the Challenge of Making Money“, notes that a great deal of open source is developed by employees of companies such as Google, Amazon, Linkedin, Netflix, and others. They do so because their products and services they sell are based on open source rather than selling the open source software directly.

Simply put, the core team in large open source projects tend to be professionals rather than volunteers.

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