The Math Of FOSS Freeloaders: Why Freeloaders Are Essential To FOSS Project Success

Stephen Walli | Outercurve Foundation | March 13, 2013

Concerns are raised every once in a while in the broader free and open source software community about freeloaders.  The attitude expressed is that if you're getting the benefit of FOSS, you should contribute.  Building a business on a FOSS project you don't own, whether you're providing a service or product around a FOSS project should in return garner some sort of quid pro quo.  In reality, freeloaders are desirable. 

I think we need to look through the other end of the telescope.  The people most often concerned about freeloaders and the free ride are actually the ones with the motivation problem — they expect free work (or “free” customers).  I recently wrote about “Making Open Source”.  One of the first things required is a motivation to share.  One of the next requirements is an ability to collaborate.  I believe the people most likely to express concerns about freeloaders seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their work. 

You almost never see this concern expressed by a company that is participating in a community it doesn't own.  They are obviously happy to be contributing and getting more than they give.  They are themselves by definition not freeloaders, and clearly the community is evolved enough that they're probably not the only outside contributing company.  Likewise, project founders and committers seem to be happy to see others using their work. All these folks already understand the dynamic.  One tends to find the freeloader concern expressed by companies that “own” the open source project.