First of all watch this fascinating TED talk by Dan Pink. Watch it all the way to the end: I promise it is worth it. Then consider this…
I’ve long argued that open source provides a clear economic benefit (and hence incentive). However, I’ve always had a bit of a nagging feeling that there’s more to it than that but have never been satisfied by sociologists’ lame attempts at explanations. Perhaps Dan Pink’s observations fill in that missing piece. Autonomy, mastery and purpose – open source development provides all three of these to developers, in copious quantities.
- Autonomy: you choose what you work on, when you work on it, and how you work on it.
- Mastery: putting all your work out there in public view gets you great feedback – and many studies have shown that people don’t improve without external feedback. Furthermore, seeing what other people have done is a fantastic learning resource.
- Purpose: most open source projects have a purpose that goes beyond the mere development of the software – for example, Apache exists to serve up web pages better than anything else does – and the higher purpose is greater democratisation and freedom for everyone. not just the developers. OpenSSL exists to protect people from invasions of the privacy and theft of their data. It’s not just a geek toy, it’s critical infrastructure for the new world we are moving into.
It seems that economics is not the only thing that makes open source better.