Research Objectives

The constant growth of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) attracted researchers from different fields over the last decades. A large body of knowledge accumulated about FOSS development: some scholars focused on providing explainations of motivations for individual participation in FOSS projects; others investigated its ethical foundations and the legal ones. Most researchers directed their attention on the self-organizing characteristics of FOSS communities, their governance mechanisms and their social structures. Other streams of research highlighted the innovative nature of FOSS development in relation to traditional software industry practices, the economic principles that make it a sustainable  'knowledge' production model, and the hacker culture that sustains many of the FOSS practices.

The departing point of this research is the little attention that the existing literature has paid to the users. Indeed, it is here claimed, this literature provide a reductionist account of FOSS:

  • the key activity under investigation is (almost exclusively) software development (writing, reviewing, fixing, and maintaining the code)
  • the actors involved in FOSS are studied (almost exclusively) in relation to this activity

Of course, it is true that this phenomenon is primarily about software and software development. Therefore, this aspect has a central role in the broad area of FOSS studies. However, while this focus has provided a lot of valuable knowledge it has also blinded us from seeing other aspects.

Onion-like model for FOSS communities' social structure. (Crowston, 2006)

I use the so called onion-model for a FOSS community social structure, to simplify the point I'm trying to make here. Most of the literature existing today deals with the central layers (project maintainers, core and co-devs) or on the shifts from external (peripheral) layers to the central ones: from being a user to being a developer. What actually happens in the peripheral layers is rarely at the centre of the investigation: we know that active-users contribute to the project development by submitting bug reports, providing translations, writing/revising/translating documentation, helping and educating new users, but how does this happen?

If coordination and collaboration are key aspects of FOSS development, then it is important, for the 'ecosystem' of one project, to understand how within different activities and across them these aspects are played out.

In order to resume, the main goal of this research is: to understand the role of the users in the development of a FOSS project, in relation to those activities usually called peripheral.