Open Source and the Economy
Oct 22, 2008 / By Sheeri Cabral
I was reading Savio Rodrigues’ post, The economy and open source, in which he responds to Andrew Keen’s thoughts that a bad economy will see fewer open source contributions.
Now, Keen feels that people will contribute less during bad financial times:
The hungry and cold unemployed masses arenâ€™t going to continue giving away their intellectual labor on the Internet in the speculative hope that they might get some “back end” revenue. “Free” doesn’t fill anyone’s belly; it doesnâ€™t warm anyone up.
I know several volunteer open source developers — I consider this to be a “role” that someone plays. A person may be *employed* as an open source developer (say, working at Sun on MySQL) but may also contribute to another open source project off-the-clock. I would consider that person to be a volunteer open source developer for the off-the-clock project.
At any rate…very few people volunteer as some kind of investment with a monetary return. I’ve been volunteering since I was 14, and I did not stuff and seal thousands of envelopes thinking about a return on my investment. Sure, I may have been enticed by something (free pizza) but in the end, where people donate their time and money is a very personal thing. They donate time and money to causes they believe in.
Human rights or open source software, it’s all the same. Yes, I feel good when I volunteer, whether it’s video recording presentations for free download or being logistical support for a friend who does the Pan-Mass Challenge every year. Do I get something in return? Usually; certainly the volunteer work I’ve done in the MySQL space has helped my career.
But that’s not WHY I do it. I do it because I want to. I see a need and I fill it, and just doing that is enough. The benefits are gravy. You wouldn’t eat a meal of just gravy, but it’s certainly nice to have *on top* of a meal. There are folks who volunteer for the benefits; they quickly change their expectations or stop contributing. A volunteer is not one who says “show me the money”. They cease to be a volunteer at that point!
I believe that Keen is correct; we will see a drop-off of people volunteering code. But that will be due to the financial bad times causing people to have less time and money. If a good coder is in dire straits, they can’t spend all their free time coding for an open source project; they have to take some of that time and spend it on looking for a job, working a 2nd job, whatever.
But if everyone volunteered for some kind of tangible benefit, there’d be a lot less good in the world.