Thursday, February 25, 2010

What motivates F/OSS?

The Harvard Business Review's IdeaCast recently interviewed Dan Pink about his book, Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. (Amazon)

In the interview, Dan gave Free/Open Source Software as an example of motivation. What motivates F/OSS developers? Largely, it isn't about the money. According to Dan, we're driven primarily by the creative need, the urge to create something that's immediately useful.

I think Dan hit the nail on the head, there. I've worked with a lot of F/OSS developers, spoken about F/OSS at a lot of conferences, and what we all seem to share is a drive to create new things. At first, Free / Open Source Software tends to "scratch our own itch" by solving a problem for ourselves, but often this grows to support others. When I wrote the first FreeDOS utilities in 1993, it was to create DOS tools that functioned better than MS-DOS. It wasn't until 1994 that I made these tools available to a wider audience in the form of FreeDOS.

Dan also commented that, contrary to conventional wisdom in business, paying a F/OSS developer doesn't actually provide additional motivation. Sure, we appreciate that we're being paid to write Free . Open Source software, but in the end that doesn't motivate us to create more software, or bigger software, or software in support of a particular thing. F/OSS developers work on things that are interesting to them, not to a corporate entity.

Paying a F/OSS developer to work on a project may actually de-motivate the developer, rather than actually motivate them. Instead, if a corporation wants to fund F/OSS development for something, you have to find other ways to motivate your developers. Dan talked about building community. And I've often discussed that building a healthy community is key for any F/OSS project. I thought this was very insightful.

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