[ox-en] Study: "Fun and Software Development - About the Motivation of Open Source Developers"
- From: Stefan Merten <smerten oekonux.de>
- Date: Sat, 07 Oct 2006 15:58:45 +0200
there is a (German :-( ) dissertation on the motivation of Free
Software developers compared to commercial developers. (Yes, this is
wrong language because Free Software can be commercial - however, that
is how the abstract puts it.) Please note that the correct link for
the PDF is
Here is the abstract of the dissertation:
The present dissertation investigates the impact of the "fun" factor
on open source developers: Is it possible to explain the phenomenon
that open source developers voluntarily create and freely distribute
software of, in some cases, grand quality by the fact that
programming is an activity that makes fun, thus, open source
software can be understood as a by-product of a deeply gratifying
activity? To answer this hypothesis, the following questions are
analyzed in the dissertation:
* How big is the share of paid and unpaid software developers,
respectively, within the population of open source developers?
* How much of the open source developers' engagement can be
explained by the programmers joy of programming?
* Is programming more fun if one develops for an open source
project, as opposed to developing under commercial conditions?
* If the hypothesis above is true: Which characteristic of the open
source development model (e.g. absent deadlines, clear project
visions, optimal challenge, no monetary incentives for project
members, no formal authority by the project leader) is responsible
for the fact that software developers in open source projects have
To answer these questions, an online survey has been carried out
both for open source developers and for programmers in commercial
software companies. To accomplish that, fun has been operationalised
by the flow concept developed by Csikszentmihalyi. The software
developers' engagement has been assessed in two ways. First, the
number of hours per week spent on open source activity has been
ascertained; second, the willingness for future activities for open
source has been determined. The open source questionnaire was
answered by altogether 1,330 programmers registered on the open
source platforms SourceForge, GNU/Savannah, or BerliOS (period May
11, 2004 - June 26, 2004). The second survey was filled by 114
programmers working in six Swiss software companies (period Sept.
20, 2004 - Nov. 4, 2004).
The evaluation of the data gathered shows that about 58% of the time
spent for open source is contributed from the programmers' spare
time. Thus, 42% of the time spent for open source is financially
compensated. However, we have to take into account that these
figures may underestimate the amount of paid work. Paid open source
developers are members of well-known open source projects. Such
projects, however, can afford their own project infrastructure and
are not dependent on platforms like SourceForge. Thus, the share of
paid open source programmers may be rather underrepresented in the
In view of the importance of fun, the present study yielded the
* Fun matters: a simple model containing fun and spare time as
independent variables can explain roughly 27% to 34% of the
engagement for open source.
* Spare Time matters: the amount of time spent by open source
developers is significantly determined by the quantity of spare
time the programmers have. However, the availability of spare time
does not matter if the open source developers are asked for their
willingness for future activities for open source.
* The joy of programming does not wear off: each additional unit of
fun is transferred linearly into additional commitment.
A comparison of the perception of joy between open source and
commercial developers asserts the hypothesis that programming in the
context of open source makes it more fun: the experience of flow
differs significantly between open source developers and programmers
developing under commercial conditions.
Remarkably, the reason for the additional fun that the open source
development model allows is not the existence of deadlines or formal
hierarchies that characterise the commercial environment. Crucial
for the joy of programming is the condition that open source
projects have a credible project vision and, above all, that they
offer a challenge to the programmers that matches the developers'
abilities in an optimal way. An open source project can fulfil these
requirements since open source developers commit themselves
voluntarily to an open source project. In this case, the project
vision and the programming task to solve are the decisive factors if
a programmer decides to engage in a certain open source project.
I wondered what the 42% paid development means. I found the
explanation on p.94 ("7.1.4 Zeitliches Engagement"). It means: 42% of
the number of hours spent by Free Software developers is done during
paid work time.
But what does that mean? The study found that the average number of
paid hours per developer is 5.2hours/week with a median of
1.5hours/week. If I interpret these numbers correctly then there is a
small number of developers who get paid for much time and a large
number of developers who spend only insignificant time on Free
Software during their jobs. Such a figure would result in a high
average but in a low median. The high standard deviation of 10.8(!) is
also a hint for such a figure.
And the study itself comes to this conclusion. The figure on p.79
shows two peaks at the ends of the range. The study defines the term
"professionals" who do spend less than 10% of their development time
in their spare time. There are only 12% professionals. A problem with
these figures is that they don't say what 10% of time means in
absolute terms. Access to the raw data would be helpful here.
To me this means: There are a number of people who develop Free
Software mainly during their spare time but also tweak it here and
there during paid labor time. This is something I know from my own
practice quite well. You develop a piece of Free Software which is
also useful for your job. This type of development is, however, not
really under the control of your boss. If your boss knows of such
activity at all s/he tolerates this. In other words: This is in no way
Free Software based on an order like Single Free Software. It's
actually Double Free Software where the developers enjoy the freedoms
of their working conditions.
Only the 12% professionals to me look like Single Free Software
Mit Freien Grüßen
Contact: projekt oekonux.de