'Gap Insurance' For Open Source - InformationWeek

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2/17/2009
11:18 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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'Gap Insurance' For Open Source

Over at Forbes.com I spied an article with the intriguing title "The Open-Source Collaboration Gap," which delves into the whole question of why the vast majority of contributions to open source projects come from individuals and not companies or institutions. Two questions came to my lips: 1) Is that the case? and 2) If so, why?

Over at Forbes.com I spied an article with the intriguing title "The Open-Source Collaboration Gap," which delves into the whole question of why the vast majority of contributions to open source projects come from individuals and not companies or institutions. Two questions came to my lips: 1) Is that the case? and 2) If so, why?

Question #1 is in fact addressed in the article, based on conversations with folks who ran both commercial projects (Alfresco) and nonprofit ones (Eclipse). Both of them reported that far more individual than institutional users committed changes to their projects.

The reason for this was because the groups were often more interested in providing functionality that supported something they needed as a group rather than something an individual might want. Also, when you are part of a group, you're committing on behalf of the whole group, not just yourself. It's far easier to do that sort of thing when it's just you -- easier, even if doesn't always yield the breadth of results possible from having many hands at work.

What I'd like to see where possible is more companies setting up open source "incubators" that serve a dual purpose: to allow those in the incubator to contribute back changes both in an individual, maverick way and on behalf of the company as a whole. The time and resources they'd spend on each of these things would be negotiable, but by doing this they could enjoy the flexibility of being individual and corporate contributors in the same breath.

I doubt there's any one model for how this could work -- they could be a formal subdivision of the company, or a fully sponsored offshoot like Eclipse, depending on the scope of their involvement and their own inclinations. But having something of this variety is shaping up to be the latest version of, say, having a CIO at all.

The more you use open source, the greater your chances of giving back in some form -- and the more you give back, the better your chances of finding yourself in a position where you'll be able to shape what you use for the better instead of just consuming it.


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