Subject: Re: Value returned from free(d) software
From: ian@cygnus.com
Date: Wed, 3 Dec 1997 14:37:31 -0500 (EST)

In fsb ghost@aladdin.com (L. Peter Deutsch) writes:

>The responses seem to indicate that developers of libre software don't
>consider the value of libre software they receive from the pool vs. the
>value of libre software they contribute to the pool to be important.  This
>suggests "I write libre software partly because by participating in the
>libre software community I'll receive more value than I contribute" is not a
>motivator for libre software developers, although I suspect those developers
>*would* agree with the very similar-sounding "The more I support the ethos
>of the libre software community by writing libre software, the more libre
>software I can expect to be available (for me) to use."

I would agree with that, but not in the sense that it motivates me
strongly.

>The reason I think this is interesting is that to some extent, libre
>software falls outside traditional economic analysis, and I think the above
>indicates part of the reason it does so, namely that for developers, the
>desire to maximize profit (value received minus value spent) doesn't apply
>to the use-value of the software.

I'm mildly skeptical about this sort of micro-economic analysis in the
best of cases, and I believe this is a case where it is currently
inapplicable.  There just aren't that many free software developers;
there certainly aren't enough that you can apply a general economic
analysis.  If anything, that indicates that a rational economic
analysis would lead to avoiding free software development.

Finding out why people do free software development is a worthwhile
exercise, but I suspect it will uncover more about psychology than
about economics.  Micro-economics is about predicting the actions of
rational economic actors, which sometimes describes the average
behaviour of a group of people, or individual behaviour on issues that
are not important to that person, but only coincidentally describes
significant activities by any individual person.

Although there may be a few exceptions, I expect that most of us
started out in free software, and only later thought about making it
pay.

>	How do you feel about the financial compensation that you've
>	gotten back from your activity of developing libre software?

I feel fine.  I never expected to make a dime out of it, and in fact I
got a consulting contract out of it, and then I was hired by Cygnus.
Working at Cygnus is (I expect) much like working at any other
software company, with the significant additional personal bonus that
much of the programming I do at work becomes freely available.

Ian