Would you do it again for free?

If you work on free software for free, and then you get paid to do it, if the payment goes away, will you still work on free software?

Here is my talk Would you do it again for free? as well as links to the blog posts, resources and books I used in my research.

One of the things about the open source community that continues to baffle those non-open source people is, “why do you do it?” Open source developers work on open source software for a number of reasons from scratching an itch to gaining a reputation to building a resume to contributing to a good cause. The interesting problem comes when money enters into the equation. Research shows that when someone works on something for free (for internal rewards), those internal rewards are replaced if you start paying them. Then if you stop paying them, they will stop working on it. Does that hold true for open source software? Are commercial companies killing open source by paying people to work on it? How should commercial companies work with the open source software community?

I believe that if someone starts working on free software for intrinsic reasons, and then they get paid to do it, if the paycheck goes away, they will no longer work on that project, but they will probably move to another free software project.

Additional blog posts on the topic:



Other recordings:

Feel free to leave a comment with any other resources!

3 Replies to “Would you do it again for free?”

  1. Another motivation for contributing to FOSS could be ‘fairness’ or ‘quid pro quo’. People or organizations use free software (and in this particular case I mean free as in free beer) and because they know that people have contributed their free time to create the software, they decide to contribute some of their time (or money) to FOSS as well.

    For example: I’m a sysadmin and webmaster, not a developer, and I use free software a lot. I recently asked a developer if he could add a few features to his software (as I don’t have the skills to do this myself). He was willing to do so and also asked me if I could have a look at the Dutch translations for his program and I did. After all, I’m using his program for free and asking him to add features for me, so if I can help him in return, I think it’s fair to do so. (It is a program I use at home, not professionally.

    This doesn’t really answer your main question, but as you listed a couple of possible motivations in your speech, I though you might be interested in addition.

  2. very interesting talk, stormy! i think another motivation for people to work in a free software project is the feeling of community, of belonging to a creative, friendly group of like-minded people. at least that’s my personal experience. this is why in-person meetings like conference and hackfests/developer sprints are so important.

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