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Survey Provides New Insights Into 'Hacker' Culture

Feb 01, 2002, 21:30 (2 Talkback[s])

A recently completed survey of the Open Source Software (OSS) community provides insight into employee motivation and the development of resource models, according to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The survey conducted online interviews with 526 OSS community members who are registered users of SourceForge.net, the world's largest Open Source development Web site. The study was released today in a presentation at the Linux World meeting in New York City. It is available online at www.bcg.com and at www.osdn.com/bcg.

"Members of the Open Source Software communities have created robust products such as the Linux operating system and Apache Web server which have captured significant market share from their commercial competitors," said Karim R. Lakhani, a consultant at BCG, a doctoral student at MIT's Sloan School of Management, and coauthor of the survey. "This survey highlights the motivation factors that contribute to the success of Open Source Software- factors that can be adapted to improve a company's intellectual capital and its innovation and product development processes."

These OSS contributors self-identify as "hackers." A hacker, as defined by Eric Raymond, a major voice in the Open Source community, in his New Hacker Dictionary, is someone who enjoys exploring the details of programmable systems and who is good at programming quickly, rather than a malicious meddler who pokes around for sensitive information-the correct term for this person is "cracker."

"This survey shows that intellectual stimulation, or pure enjoyment, seems to be the primary motivating factor for this fervor, followed closely by a desire to improve one's skills," said Bob Wolf, a senior manager at BCG and coauthor of the survey. "Imagine the competitive advantage that awaits a company that achieves this level of motivation across all of its core processes." Wolf went on to say that "this survey has created a fact base for understanding self-organizing communities in general and Open Source communities in particular."

"We are excited to be working with The Boston Consulting Group on this research initiative," said Jeff "hemos" Bates, Director of OSDN Online. "Although the Open Source movement has existed for several years, the business implications of this movement have never been adequately analyzed."

"I've estimated that large organizations typically operate at something like 10-20 percent of their creative potential, measured by their actual accomplishments in peak situations compared with their accomplishments on an average Tuesday afternoon. It's worth considering whether the Open Source model responds to that and other possible corporate shortcomings," notes Bob Shapiro, the former CEO of Monsanto and retired chairman of Pharmacia and now a senior advisor to BCG.

"In fact, there already are some examples of companies that are successfully following approaches evident in OSS," Mark Blaxill, a senior vice president at BCG said. "IBM has embraced the Open Source movement, simultaneously increasing the credibility of Linux and promoting its own position. By allowing consumers of its Mindstorm toy robot to rewrite its operating system and programming language, Lego increased the functionality to the user and outperformed its initial sales forecasts. Similarly, Harley Davidson relinquished control of its brand to its biker community, with overwhelmingly positive results. Even industrial products companies have created value by more dynamically linking networks of experts to increase the efficiency and utilization of their operations."

Wolf and Lakhani note the following key findings from the survey:

  • Participants note extremely high levels of creativity in their projects, with 63 percent indicating that their current project contributions were at least as creative as anything they have ever done.
  • Having fun (43 percent of respondents ranked as top 3 motivator), enhancing skills (43 percent), desire to support the OS community (34 percent), and user needs (personal at 30 percent; professional also at 30 percent) drive contributions to the Open Source community. Defeating proprietary software companies is not a major motivator.
  • The Open Source community is truly global in composition with respondents coming from 35 countries.
  • Most participants dedicate at least 10 hours per week in their shared programming efforts.
  • While some hackers are students or academics, most contributors are skilled IT professionals (56 percent). The average programming experience of the sample was more than 10 years.

About The Boston Consulting Group

The Boston Consulting Group is a general management consulting firm that is a global leader in business strategy. BCG has helped companies in every major industry and market achieve a competitive advantage by developing and implementing unique strategies. Founded in 1963, the firm now operates 52 offices in 34 countries. For further information, please visit our Web site at www.bcg.com.

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