Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Eclipse Authors: XebiaLabs Blog, Ken Fogel, Sematext Blog, Marcin Warpechowski, Trevor Parsons

Related Topics: Open Source, Linux, Eclipse, Open Web, Apache, OpenStack Journal

Open Source: Article

The Math of FOSS Freeloaders

Why freeloaders are essential to FOSS project success

Concerns are raised every once in a while in the broader free and open source software community about freeloaders. The attitude expressed is that if you're getting the benefit of FOSS, you should contribute. Building a business on a FOSS project you don't own, whether you're providing a service or product around a FOSS project should in return garner some sort of quid pro quo. In reality, freeloaders are desirable.

I think we need to look through the other end of the telescope. The people most often concerned about freeloaders and the free ride are actually the ones with the motivation problem - they expect free work (or "free" customers).  I recently wrote about "Making Open Source." One of the first things required is a motivation to share.  One of the next requirements is an ability to collaborate. I believe the people most likely to express concerns about freeloaders seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their work.

You almost never see this concern expressed by a company that is participating in a community it doesn't own.  They are obviously happy to be contributing and getting more than they give.  They are themselves by definition not freeloaders, and clearly the community is evolved enough that they're probably not the only outside contributing company.  Likewise, project founders and committers seem to be happy to see others using their work. All these folks already understand the dynamic.  One tends to find the freeloader concern expressed by companies that "own" the open source project.

In a former life as a consultant, I saw companies that own projects raise concerns about contribution and about "giving away their software for free."  This is really another way of saying, "we didn't receive the expected contributions in kind."  Worse, there would be discussion about users that didn't convert into customers because this would be the only forgivable reason not to contribute.  The thinking was, "somebody needs to pay."

Such companies confused customers testing the solution in the user community with genuine community users that aren't convertible leads.  The company couldn't initially fathom that developing a community of users around a technology project would:

  • Create the knowledge, expertise and experience necessary to provide a complete solution for the technology pitch to the customer.  These proof points are invaluable when actual potential customers are self-qualifying themselves in the community and testing the strength of a solution's community.
  • Create advocates and evangelists to spread awareness about a solution.
  • Create enormous inertia in the status quo around a technology they own or provide the dominant expertise around.
  • Anchor customers both in an engaged relationship as well as from a technology perspective.
  • Ultimately lead to contributions if they encourage and prepare for them.  (N.B. This is still not a conversion to a paying customer.)

I have even seen a variation on the freeloader phenomenon in relation to the Google Summer of Code: projects that haven't participated before mistakenly want to get free labour for the summer.  The Summer of Code is explicitly designed to enable computer science students to learn about open source software, to gain experience in real-world distributed software development work, and to hone their programming skills.  It's about the students - not the labour.  As the tagline says, "flip bits not burgers."  The FOSS project itself certainly benefits with exposure, training their own project members as mentors, and if the project mentors do a good job, they gain committed new blood.  But it's not about "getting free work."

It's really about the math of the situation.  A number of people have observed over the years that contributions flowing into a FOSS project hold a particular pattern.  For every thousand bug reports, a hundred developers will propose a solution in code.  Ten will actually read the submission guidelines and fix the entire bug.  One will provide a righteous fix and the contributor will have run the test harness provided, and their submission will include new test cases to prove it has been solved.  This works for communities with large user bases like MySQL and sendmail right down to very specialized communities around such things as graphics drivers.

These observations set the tone for how to think about the vector, because to get a thousand bug reports, you probably need ten thousand users in your community.  If the observations are accurate, 90% of every FOSS community must be users that don't contribute so much as a single bug report, i.e. they're freeloaders.

So, it is really about the project motivation.  Developing good software is hard work and liberally sharing the software under FOSS licenses and building a community is the best way to spread the economic costs of development and gain inbound domain expertise.  Furthermore, if you're a company that owns the actual IP for the software project, you gain the additional benefits (defined above) around developing an engaged community.

Contribution is the lifeblood of the FOSS project, so it needs to be easy to install/configure and use the software to build a broad community of users.  It needs to be easy for users to understand how and what to contribute to improve the odds of contribution.  If code is the inbound contribution, it needs to be easy for users to become code contributors.  Such people need to know what to do, how to get started, and how to contribute.  All of these activities are the project's responsibility.  From the contribution flow, a project will find its future committers and maintainers to renew the core development community.

As a project community grows and thrives it will attract businesses that want to use the software and contribute.  If the project developers meet the commercial needs for legal risk management, then an ecosystem can thrive around the FOSS project.  This adds even more users to the community as companies participate, pulling the project software into new places.

So in the end, it's all about freeloaders, but from the perspective that you want as many as possible.  That means you're "doing it right" in developing a broad base of users by making their experience easy, making it easy for them to contribute, and ultimately to create an ecosystem that continues to sustain itself.  Freeloaders are essential to the growth and success of every FOSS project.

More Stories By Stephen Walli

Stephen Walli has worked in the IT industry since 1980 as both customer and vendor. He is presently the technical director for the Outercurve Foundation.

Prior to this, he consulted on software business development and open source strategy, often working with partners like Initmarketing and InteropSystems. He organized the agenda, speakers and sponsors for the inaugural Beijing Open Source Software Forum as part of the 2007 Software Innovation Summit in Beijing. The development of the Chinese software market is an area of deep interest for him. He is a board director at eBox, and an advisor at Bitrock, Continuent, Ohloh (acquired by SourceForge in 2009), and TargetSource (each of which represents unique opportunities in the FOSS world). He was also the open-source-strategist-in-residence for Open Tuesday in Finland.

Stephen was Vice-president, Open Source Development Strategy at Optaros, Inc. through its initial 19 months. Prior to that he was a business development manager in the Windows Platform team at Microsoft working on community development, standards, and intellectual property concerns.

@ThingsExpo Stories
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal today!
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises are using some form of XaaS – software, platform, and infrastructure as a service.
The Internet of Things is not new. Historically, smart businesses have used its basic concept of leveraging data to drive better decision making and have capitalized on those insights to realize additional revenue opportunities. So, what has changed to make the Internet of Things one of the hottest topics in tech? In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Gray, Director, Embedded and Internet of Things, discussed the underlying factors that are driving the economics of intelligent systems. Discover how hardware commoditization, the ubiquitous nature of connectivity, and the emergence of Big Data a...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo in Silicon Valley. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal an...
All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devices - computers, smartphones, tablets, and sensors - connected to the Internet by 2020. This number will continue to grow at a rapid pace for the next several decades. With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo, June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be
Container frameworks, such as Docker, provide a variety of benefits, including density of deployment across infrastructure, convenience for application developers to push updates with low operational hand-holding, and a fairly well-defined deployment workflow that can be orchestrated. Container frameworks also enable a DevOps approach to application development by cleanly separating concerns between operations and development teams. But running multi-container, multi-server apps with containers is very hard. You have to learn five new and different technologies and best practices (libswarm, sy...
SYS-CON Events announced today that DragonGlass, an enterprise search platform, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. After eleven years of designing and building custom applications, OpenCrowd has launched DragonGlass, a cloud-based platform that enables the development of search-based applications. These are a new breed of applications that utilize a search index as their backbone for data retrieval. They can easily adapt to new data sets and provide access to both structured and unstruc...
As the Internet of Things unfolds, mobile and wearable devices are blurring the line between physical and digital, integrating ever more closely with our interests, our routines, our daily lives. Contextual computing and smart, sensor-equipped spaces bring the potential to walk through a world that recognizes us and responds accordingly. We become continuous transmitters and receivers of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Andrew Bolwell, Director of Innovation for HP's Printing and Personal Systems Group, discussed how key attributes of mobile technology – touch input, sensors, social, and ...
WebRTC defines no default signaling protocol, causing fragmentation between WebRTC silos. SIP and XMPP provide possibilities, but come with considerable complexity and are not designed for use in a web environment. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Matthew Hodgson, technical co-founder of the Matrix.org, discussed how Matrix is a new non-profit Open Source Project that defines both a new HTTP-based standard for VoIP & IM signaling and provides reference implementations.
SYS-CON Events announced today that the "First Containers & Microservices Conference" will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City. The “Second Containers & Microservices Conference” will take place November 3-5, 2015, at Santa Clara Convention Center, Santa Clara, CA. Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities.
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists will peel away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud environment, and we must architect and code accordingly. At the very least, you'll have no problem fil...
Almost everyone sees the potential of Internet of Things but how can businesses truly unlock that potential. The key will be in the ability to discover business insight in the midst of an ocean of Big Data generated from billions of embedded devices via Systems of Discover. Businesses will also need to ensure that they can sustain that insight by leveraging the cloud for global reach, scale and elasticity.
The 4th International Internet of @ThingsExpo, co-located with the 17th International Cloud Expo - to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA - announces that its Call for Papers is open. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the biggest idea since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago.
"People are a lot more knowledgeable about APIs now. There are two types of people who work with APIs - IT people who want to use APIs for something internal and the product managers who want to do something outside APIs for people to connect to them," explained Roberto Medrano, Executive Vice President at SOA Software, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at Cloud Expo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect at GE, and Ibrahim Gokcen, who leads GE's advanced IoT analytics, focused on the Internet of Things / Industrial Internet and how to make it operational for business end-users. Learn about the challenges posed by machine and sensor data and how to marry it with enterprise data. They also discussed the tips and tricks to provide the Industrial Internet as an end-user consumable service using Big Data Analytics and Industrial Cloud.
Sensor-enabled things are becoming more commonplace, precursors to a larger and more complex framework that most consider the ultimate promise of the IoT: things connecting, interacting, sharing, storing, and over time perhaps learning and predicting based on habits, behaviors, location, preferences, purchases and more. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tom Wesselman, Director of Communications Ecosystem Architecture at Plantronics, will examine the still nascent IoT as it is coalescing, including what it is today, what it might ultimately be, the role of wearable tech, and technology gaps stil...
The explosion of connected devices / sensors is creating an ever-expanding set of new and valuable data. In parallel the emerging capability of Big Data technologies to store, access, analyze, and react to this data is producing changes in business models under the umbrella of the Internet of Things (IoT). In particular within the Insurance industry, IoT appears positioned to enable deep changes by altering relationships between insurers, distributors, and the insured. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Michael Sick, a Senior Manager and Big Data Architect within Ernst and Young's Financial Servi...
The Workspace-as-a-Service (WaaS) market will grow to $6.4B by 2018. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Seth Bostock, CEO of IndependenceIT, will begin by walking the audience through the evolution of Workspace as-a-Service, where it is now vs. where it going. To look beyond the desktop we must understand exactly what WaaS is, who the users are, and where it is going in the future. IT departments, ISVs and service providers must look to workflow and automation capabilities to adapt to growing demand and the rapidly changing workspace model.
Since 2008 and for the first time in history, more than half of humans live in urban areas, urging cities to become “smart.” Today, cities can leverage the wide availability of smartphones combined with new technologies such as Beacons or NFC to connect their urban furniture and environment to create citizen-first services that improve transportation, way-finding and information delivery. In her session at @ThingsExpo, Laetitia Gazel-Anthoine, CEO of Connecthings, will focus on successful use cases.
One of the biggest impacts of the Internet of Things is and will continue to be on data; specifically data volume, management and usage. Companies are scrambling to adapt to this new and unpredictable data reality with legacy infrastructure that cannot handle the speed and volume of data. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Don DeLoach, CEO and president of Infobright, will discuss how companies need to rethink their data infrastructure to participate in the IoT, including: Data storage: Understanding the kinds of data: structured, unstructured, big/small? Analytics: What kinds and how responsiv...