Volunteers' participative behaviors in open source software development: The role of extrinsic incentive, intrinsic motivation and relational social capital




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Open source software is a revolution in software development and represents a new mode of software distribution. The widespread diffusion of Internet access in the early 1990s led to a dramatic acceleration of open source activity. Compared with traditional software development, open source software development is informally organized, loosely structured and lacks the formal control mechanisms used in traditional software development.

The success of an open source project depends on the participation of voluntary developers. Currently the research on open source software is focused on understanding the motivations or incentives for open source participation at general level. There has been very little research about the influence of community characteristics on the participants’ behaviors. To better understand the motivations of open source participation, this study integrates incentive factor (reputation gaining, personal software needs, and learning purpose), intrinsic motivational factor (enjoyment) and social relational factors (identification and obligation) to see how these factors impact participation level in open source communities, and how they work together and complement each other.

An empirical study using Web survey methodology was conducted to test the research model. Data were collected from voluntary developers in many open source projects. Using the Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) method, data analysis showed that most of the research hypotheses were supported.

The research findings show that the relational social factors play very important role in motivation of open source project participation. Professional benefits and enjoyment also have influence on participation. Virtual community quality is critical to the success of open source software development, and voluntary developers’ participation can be promoted through community building, including member selection, goal congruence, promotion of interpersonal relationships, and providing work-related and emotional support. The research findings provide theoretical contribution to open source software research, and practical implications for open source project management.



Virtual community, Open source software, Relational