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Comparing the effects of indirect reciprocity and division of labor across OSS communities
Underexplored question? (05.02.2019)
Förderjahr 2018 / Stipendien Call #13 / ProjektID: 3844 / Projekt: Essays on Communities

As is known today, OSS communities differ from traditional organizations pursuing the goal of producing similar goods/software artifacts in many ways, attracting the wide interest of organizational scholars for almost two decades by now.

Community contributors do not submit themselves to traditional managerial forms of authoritative task allocation but self-select into projects instead. In turn, they (mostly) do not receive financial remuneration. To infer from the absence of direct financial rewards that contributors are purely intrinsically incentivized would be misleading, however. Research conducted to this day conveys a multifaceted picture of what motivates contributors to join public innovation communities. Here, the consensus appears to be that nonpecuniary rewards incentivize outsiders to join and work for the community whereas monetary incentives, in turn, can lead to undesired crowding-out of intrinsic motivation.

In their quest to explain both the emergence and persistence of these collectives, researchers have drawn on a diverse set of theoretical lenses in the past, however, two views have featured most prominently in the explanations. According to the first and overall dominating understanding, such open innovation collectives arise from the exchange between volunteer contributors who adhere to norms of (indirect) reciprocity, exploiting the benefits of the preferential attachment and centrality in a network of contributors. As such, their evolution follows the typical trajectory of a social network. According to the second and somewhat less pronounced view, these collectives display features of goal‐directed agent‐based systems that actually resemble traditional (for‐profit) organizations which build on the division of labor perspectives. By this understanding, contributors subscribe to a common goal and assume different roles in the community based on their preferences and skills (see the first part of my PhD dissertation).

Mixed empirical evidence supporting either view leaves an unsatisfactory picture as to which of the seemingly conflicting perspectives is best suited to describe the structure and success of open innovation projects. In this study, we aim at reconciling the two prospects by asking the following question(s): to what extent projects display features of the one kind or the other? What actions (reciprocating/exchanging in the community or managing the project) by a project founder would have a stronger effect on her project’s success?


Social networks Division of Labor OSS communities
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