February 20, 2003

Free and Open Source Software developers: Please take this survey

- By Robin 'Roblimo' Miller -
Its official name is The Free/Libre/Open Source Software Survey for 2003, and it's being conducted by a research group at Stanford University. Note that this is a survey for developers, not users. It asks questions like, "When did you first start participating in open source/free software development?" This is a serious study, funded by the National Science Foundation, and your participation is important no matter where you live, since this is worldwide, not US-only, research.

The Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research is the sort of place that TV networks call for expert opinions, and the fact that this prestigious (and well-publicized) organization is willing to sponsor something called The Stanford Project on the Economics of Open Source Software tells you that Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) is now being taken seriously not only by people in the IT industry, but by economists and others who try to predict what technologies, business concepts, and social movements may produce major changes in our society in the foreseeable future.

This survey seems to be at least as much about the social interactions involved in FLOSS as in the code produced. Both the funding announcement and the research agenda make interesting reading.

A quote from the research agenda:

In our view OS/FS warrants systematic investigation in view of a particular historical conjuncture, indeed portentous constellation of trends in the modern economy. The first is that information-goods are moving increasingly to the center of the stage as drivers of economic growth. Secondly, the enabling of peer-to-peer organizations for information distribution and utilization is an increasingly obtrusive consequence of the direction in which digital technologies are advancing, and the "open" (and cooperative) mode of organizing the generation of new knowledge has long been recognized to have efficiency properties that are much superior to institutional solutions to the public goods problem which entail the restriction of access to information through secrecy or property rights enforcement. Thirdly, and of practical significance for those who seek to study it systematically, the OS/FS mode of production itself is generating a wealth of quantitative information about this instantiation of "open epistemic communities." This last development makes OS/FS activities a valuable window through which to study the more generic and fundamental processes that are responsible for its power, as well as the factors that are likely to limit its domain of viability in competition with other modes of organizing economic activities.

Please note that this survey does not require personal identification. The introduction to it says, "We are committed to protecting respondents' privacy: no personal identifiers will be stored with your answers and responses will be reported in aggregates that will prevent inferences about individual identities."

We urge all of our readers who are actively engaged in FLOSS development to both take this survey and encourage developer friends and associates to take it, too.

The survey URL is www.stanford.edu/group/floss-us/survey.fft.


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