No need to worry as open source contributions decline

As open source projects mature, money replaces time as what the community contributes -- and that's just fine

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Part of the decline in contribution is surely linked to corporate policies. The Eclipse survey found that 35 percent of respondents in 2010, down from 48 percent in 2009, claimed their employer's corporate policies allowed employees to contribute to open source projects.

Open source users and customers are different
Is user contribution of money to an open source project also on a decline as Gentile worries?

James Dixon, CTO and founder of Pentaho, an open source business intelligence vendor, disagrees with Gentile's notion of users contributing money to a project. Dixon believes that trying to sell an enterprise version of software and services to community members is a mistake, one that misses the distinction between users and customers.

As a commercial open source (COSS) company, you can provide tools for your community members to persuade their employers to become customers, and you can explain how this benefits both companies involved and the community. For most COSS companies, it is impossible to monetize the community directly, and therefore ridiculous to try.

Users can contribute time, customers can contribute money
It's important to separate, as Dixon does, the expectations of users versus customers. For enterprise software, users seldom have the budget authority to become paying customers. But users can encourage IT decision makers to become customers.

Gentile is correct in stating that users of an open source project, especially in its early stages, contribute their time to the endeavor. As user adoption increases, companies decide to adopt the resulting product. These companies contribute money to the vendor, who in turn uses the funds to further enhance the product and the open source project.

A decline in user contributions of time is not necessarily an issue. Additionally, there should be little concern over community users' monetary donations to a project, for the simple reason that they don't have the budget authority to do so within an enterprise.

Over time, user contribution declines, but the project is sustained by the funds made available through corporate purchasers of the product. In a sense, as projects mature, user contribution of time is inversely proportional to customer contribution of money.

Follow me on Twitter at SavioRodrigues. I should state: "The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies, or opinions."

This article, "No need to worry as open source contributions decline," was originally published at Read more of Savio Rodrigues's Open Sources blog and follow the latest developments in open source at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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