The coproduction of open source software by volunteers and big tech firms

This is absolutely fascinating reading. I can’t suggest it enough to people interested in sustainability and the interface between corporate and volunteer devs. Really hoping to get Mathieu on the podcast.

This report maps how firms are collaborating with communities of unpaid volunteers to produce open source code, used in most IT applications and infrastructures.

The authors map firm employee contributions to top GitHub repositories, and analyse how the IT press portrays this co-production. They also show how IT firm and foundation employee presentations at open source conferences reveal contrasting visions of digital infrastructure, business models, and the firm-community relationship.

Big tech firms such as Amazon are using cloud computing and Software as a Service to transform open source software, which is intended to be shared and modified, into closed assets. The report outlines strategic responses to big tech appropriation and reviews current debates about the recognition of volunteer work, money in FOSS, software licenses and universal basic incomes.

The report also features invited comments exploring alternative perspectives by French open source specialists from the fields of academia, industry and activism.

  1. I agree it is a good read.

  2. If you get Matthieu or other, I want to ask him questions. I already sent him comments over Twitter re the quantitative analysis in Chapter 2. I’ve found that we should all look beyond the biggest projects on GitHub. They are dominated by big companies b/c big companies use them, and often times created those projects. That’s not stealing or subverting intellectual property from volunteers.

  3. The authors do make a strong argument that focusing on the term “community” helps Big Tech to the detriment of small companies and individuals. For OSPOs, they have to evangelize community values, but developer relations really should just shut up about community b/c we all know they are self-interested.

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Mathieu has let me know that if anyone wants a physical copy of this report, to send him an email. I’m looking forward to getting mine!