Declining User Contributions to Open Source: Does It Matter?
Recently, we covered some of the extensive results from the Eclipse Community Survey and Open Source Developer Report, which contains lots of data about open source trends. In this year's survey, as has been seen in similar surveys recently, mobile applications and cloud computing are clearly on users' and developers' minds. As we noted here, another set of results from this year's survey is generating discussion online, though, about whether the many new organizations and businesses adopting open source software are also giving back to the projects they benefit from. According to some observers, the disparity between using and contributing doesn't matter.
Brian Gentile, CEO of Jaspersoft, writes in a blog post that contributions do matter:
"Many of the community members with whom I recently spoke admitted to using only the open source (Community Edition) versions of the software and not contributing back in any recent or relevant way to the community and its projects. That’s the sin. If you are receiving big value through the use of a valuable open source project, great, but know that contributing back to the community is necessary to help ensure that community and open source project will continue to thrive and succeed."
Notably, though, Jaspersoft uses open source as an identifier for its business intelligence software less and less, and Matt Aslett notes:
"Just because a company no longer uses the term ‘open source’ as an identifier does not necessarily indicate that the company is moving away from open source. However, the fact that so many of these vendors have dropped the term open source from their descriptions does indicate that open source is decreasingly seen as a differentiator and a term that vendors choose to identify themselves with."
This, of course, varies across commercial open source companies. Many companies, such as Red Hat, remain very vocal about the open source identifier. When it comes to commercial companies leveraging open source, Savio Rodrigues has the piece of analysis that I agree with:
"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."
I would add that some open source projects are sustained increasingly over time by corporate contributors. The Linux kernel, for example, gets huge forward momentum from contributions from companies ranging from Red hat to IBM to Intel. What's certain is that as a successful open source project moves forward, the profile of its primary contributors changes dramatically.