Motivations behind Open Source

Waxing philosophical tonight.  Apologies in advance.

Paul Ramsey had a great opening keynote opening keynote at FOSS4G on the business model/economics (punchline: business tactic) behind Open Source software, and Free and Open Source companies.  It was funny and convincing, began with absurdity, and made me laugh, as did his PostGIS for Power Users.  His presentation style is at once casual, clever, and passionate.  What caught my attention was the series of slides about the primary and secondary motivators behind making Open Source software: money, community, shared accomplishments, etc.  Is money or should money be the primary motivator behind Open Source software development?  I don’t mean for individual companies– for companies, money may be the primary motivator (if I may divorce individual choices from corporate motivation).  But for individuals working in the Open Source Geospatial community?

If RSAnimate’s video on “The surprising truth about what motivates us

(go ahead, watch it, I’ll wait) is a good indicator of what current research indicates motivates people, money becomes secondary once a certain level of comfort is met, and above that line (whatever that line is) more money actually makes us less productive, more risk averse, and well, less smart, of all things.  So, if Open Source is the superior development model, and we want great Open Source, do we want to be driving the model for Open Source development through the idea that money is the primary motivator for that development?  Money is important, and we want companies to understand that there are business models that include Open Source code as a tactic, but shouldn’t we be articulating carefully who we are and why we have the community, the tribes, of Open Source GeoSpatial developers and users we have?

So those intangibles Paul mentions in his keynote:

  • community
  • shared accomplishments
  • satisfaction of learning and exploring
  • freedom to build
  • membership in a global community

I argue those are the important factors in motivating great FOSS development.  The money.  That pays the bills, feeds the family, keeps the roof over out heads, etc., all vitally important.  But it’s the participation in projects larger and more important than me, the shared accomplishments, the great features and information I can provide to the public, it’s all these things that make this more than a job.  That’s what switches work from vital to integral.  Money can be made in many ways.  Which ways one chooses, that’s what distinguishes jobs from passions.  FOSS is great when it is our passion.

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