He had some interesting things to say about open source software development, and I wanted to comment on them briefly.
Bruce Metcalfe was quoted in the article as saying: “It's the sustainability long-term of the open source model that I worry about. Who will take care of the software after the novelty wears off and the volunteers lose interest and get real jobs?”
First of all, I’d like to inform everyone that volunteers on open source software development projects do have real jobs, just like volunteers of all other sorts of causes or ideas. For example, I work a day job as an assistant to a licensed land surveyor on
Bruce Metcalfe does bring up an interesting point in his comment that I would like to touch on. He said that “It's the sustainability long-term of the open source model that I worry about. Who will take care of the software after the novelty wears off and the volunteers lose interest…” Bruce has identified a major challenge every open source project without a large corporate backer, like the JUMP Pilot Project, must face.
How do you find and retain volunteers?
I’m not sure I have an answer to this question. There probably isn’t a silver bullet solution. Perhaps what we really need to ask is “How do we make sure a long-time volunteer’s knowledge is passed on to other volunteers before they leave a project?” This can probably be answered to a small extent with better documentation policies, something that most open source projects can improve on.
The reality is that volunteer turnover is a major challenge that the open source community will have to work hard to over come. Perhaps in some future blog posts I can talk about some ideas to reduce volunteer turnover. We might be able to borrow and adapt some ideas from the business world in this respect.
I think we can answer the “Who will take care of the software after the novelty wears off…” question by developing open source software that fills a need of the end user in a simple and elegant way. Most software users aren’t looking for novelty anyways, they want a tool that helps them get something done, whatever that “something” might be.
The Sunburned Surveyor