There are two dominant movements within Open Source with slightly differing ideologies. The Free Software movement prefer more restrictive licensing that limit commerciality and the Open Source movement favours more permissive licensing1. However, they both embrace the same norms and values of free software use, openness, status and reciprocity which are referred to as OSS Ideology.

Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman

OSS Ideology and its implications for Commercial OSS adoption can be best understood by examining the Social, Ethical, Technical, Economic and Governance aspects of Open Source.

The commercial motivations of organizations are accepted by the community of Open Source developers, provided organizations respect the rules of the Open Source community. Acceptance within the development community is critical to the success of any OS project. When considering Snapfix approach to Open APIs and Open Innovation, I’ve explored the Social and Ethical motivations of the OSS community as well as the Technological and Economic implications for Snapfix as a business2.


Von Krogh et al. (2012)3 provide the most succinct analysis of social motivations in the Open Source community. By analysing previous theoretical studies, they demonstrate that individuals are motivated by intrinsic values such as ideology and fun and extrinsic values such as reciprocity, upskilling and career advancement.

Their findings are partly supported by Andersen-Gott et al. (2012)4 three case studies conducted with IT organizations who have adopted Open Source and by Bonaccorsi and Rossi (2006)2 earlier empirical research which show that contributors derive pleasure from the creative and hedonistic aspects of source coding and their status within the Open Source community is bolstered by donating their code with an implied duty to reciprocate. Their study highlights an over emphasis within the theoretical literature on the social motivations of reputation enhancement and an under emphasis on upskilling as a motivator.

When considering the broad IT community as a whole, the Open Source phenomenon can sometimes be “mind bending”5 for many IT practitioners. From a socio-cognitive approach, it can be shown that more experienced (general) IT practitioners can be resistant to Open Source5. unsurprisingly, practitioners with some experience in Open Source are more receptive to adoption. Within Snapfix, almost our entire technical team have foundational experience in using Open Source libraries and repositories. With the exception of parts of our iOS stack, all of our technology stack is build on Open Source technologies.


Ethical considerations have been a major motivator for me when considering the adoption of OSS into a project or company. Snapfix use of OSS has been heavily influenced by the effects that OSS have on the ethics of the teams working on the project. I’ve struggled in the past to instill professionalism and a code of ethics into nascent software teams and I’ve found the use of OSS as an effective means of instilling desirable traits into my software teams. Like many technical fields, OSS has its roots in academia as can be noted by the shared values of openness and acknowledgment of original contributors. Open Source development occurs openly and within a social context where standards of practice and technical excellence are defined by the collective working on that Open Source project. Becoming an Open Source developer represents more than committing source code to a project. It represents induction into a social structure with an obligation to adhere to the common social practice3. “Release early and often”6 is an example of an open source ethical obligation. Other ethical codes of practice have emerged within the Open Source community which have led to the production of high quality software. Linus Torvalds of the Linux Foundation7 and Richard Stallman of MIT3 have been key influencers on social and ethical norms within the Open Source and Free Software movements respectively. I’ve found a general misunderstanding or lack of appreciation within the industry for OSS ability to instill desirable professional values into younger software teams. Software Engineering is a relatively new profession when compared to Medicine or Law and is moving at a lightning pace in comparison to these other professions. I believe it’s impractical to rely on the traditional route of professional bodies and certifications as a means of instilling professionalism and ethics and I see OSS as a better route to this goal. Von Krogh et al.3 academic research in this area have important implications for firms adopting Open Source but the authors have missed an opportunity to explore Open Source as a more effective route towards establishing and disseminating a unified ethical code in the Software industry as a whole rather than Oz (1992)8 recommendation for a unified code based on existing professional bodies. Should the former occur, it will be the firms perceived use of Open Source that will bestow professional legitimacy rather than membership and claimed adherence to a professional body’s code of ethics, thus providing another critical motivator for Snapfix and other firms to adopt Open Source.

Martin Fowler of ThoughtWorks, Kent Beck and Robert Martin (Uncle Bob) Agile Manifesto


Compared to proprietary closed source software produced over similar timeframes, Open Source produces an increased feature set, fosters creativity and leads to higher quality code through more rapid bug fixing910. Code can be examined for bugs by a large cohort of skilled community developers which leads to radical improvements in software quality and provides learning opportunities for the participants. Stewart and Gosain (2006)11 contend that adherence to OSS Ideology leads to superior innovation and desirable technical outcomes. However, Von Krogh et al. (2012)3 argue that it is the pragmatic outcomes that drive institutional innovation and adoption of OSS rather than an adherence to the ideology. Casadesus-Masanell and Llanes, (2011)12 have demonstrated through their Mixed Source techno-rational Framework that firms are more likely to adopt Open Source as the technical quality of Open Source Software increases.


Commercial Open Source firms seem to contradict existing economic theories Andersen-Gott et al. (2012)4. The economics of Open Source firms centre around the balance of Value Creation and Value Capture (Casadesus-Masanell and Llanes, 201112). Firms must capture value from the technology (West and Gallagher, 200513).

Bonaccorsi and Rossi (2006)2 point out that profits can be realized more easily by leveraging Open Source, making it especially attractive for smaller firms. To benefit from Open Source Open Innovation, the firm may need to open source existing valuable proprietary software (West and Gallagher, 200513). Bonaccorsi and Rossi cite IBMs Linux distribution as an example of this strategy. Firms that are transitioning from a proprietary to an Open Source model face the organizational challenge of changing their aggressively protectionist IP philosophy to an open philosophy allowing shared rights to the technology and adopting a collaborative work practice.

Governance and Leadership

There is limited coverage in the literature in the area of governance of Commercial Open Source projects.

O’Mahony and Ferraro (2007)14 research points to a meritocratic bias towards leadership. Community members technical and organizational contributions predispose the wider community to favour them as leaders of the project. This outcome is enforced in later research carried out by Shaikh and Vaast (2016)15. However, O’Mahony and Ferraro (2007)14 research is centred on a single extreme case (the Debian project) which is quite different in structure from most commercial Open Source projects. This doesn’t preclude their findings from being relevant to other projects, but renewed research is warranted.

Recent papers bridge some gaps in OSS governance research. Shaikh and Henfridsson (2017)16 point out that adoption of an appropriate governance model is required to effectively manage control and coordination over the OSS. This balancing act of power and collaboration is echoed by Shaikh and Cornford (2010, p. 8)17 and they stress the need for companies to “loosen up and relax” and cede some control to the OSS community.

Shaikh and Vaast (2016)15 introduce the concept of digital folds. These are private (physical or virtual) spaces where experts can be brought together and encouraged to communicate privately in order to facilitate deep focus and foster innovation. Unlike typical OSS development structures, digital folds are not inclusive and do not foster diversification.

This concept of digital folds challenges earlier literature which stresses the importance of openness within the community of Open Source developers. Commercial and community interests exist in harmony only when the firm respects OSS Ideology2. The proliferation of digital folds could be viewed as a retrograde step back towards proprietary development. Shaikh and Vaast (2016)15 claim their empirical analysis demonstrates a willingness within the OSS community to accept limited opacity but it’s far from conclusive. The use of folds within their case study caused anxiety, upheaval and almost led to a fork (split in the project) which is contrary to OSS Ideology18. Developers may choose to leave a firm if they feel their OSS ethics are being compromised or if excessive control is being levied on the project3, which may be the case if they are encouraged to contribute to a community Open Source project in an opaque manner. At Snapfix we’ve made explicit efforts to avoid using digital folds or similar practices when managing our Open or Inner Sourcing projects. We favour group pull requests or group Zoom calls and rarely discuss architecture or process matters on a private basis.

Next: Commercial Open Source Ideology

  1. Hippel, E. von, Krogh, G. von, 2003. Open Source Software and the “Private-Collective” Innovation Model: Issues for Organization Science. Organ. Sci. 14, 209–223. ↩︎

  2. Bonaccorsi, A., Rossi, C., 2006. Comparing motivations of individual programmers and firms to take part in the open source movement: From community to business. Knowl. Technol. Policy 18, 40–64. ↩︎

  3. von Krogh, G., Haefliger, S., Spaeth, S., Wallin, M.W., 2012. Carrots and Rainbows: Motivation and Social Practice in Open Source Software Development. MIS Q. 36, 649–676. ↩︎

  4. Andersen-Gott, M., Ghinea, G., Bygstad, B., 2012. Why do commercial companies contribute to open source software? Int. J. Inf. Manag. 32, 106–117. ↩︎

  5. Marsan, J., Paré, G., Beaudry, A., 2012. Adoption of open source software in organizations: A socio-cognitive perspective. J. Strateg. Inf. Syst. 21, 257–273. ↩︎

  6. Raymond, E., 1999. The cathedral and the bazaar. Knowl. Technol. Policy 12, 23–49. PAGE 24 ↩︎

  7. Raymond, E., 1999. The cathedral and the bazaar. Knowl. Technol. Policy 12, 23–49. ↩︎

  8. Oz, E., 1992. Ethical Standards for Information Systems Professionals: A Case for a Unified Code. MIS Q. 16, 423–433. ↩︎

  9. Ågerfalk, P.J., Fitzgerald, B., 2008. Outsourcing to an Unknown Workforce: Exploring Opensourcing as a Global Sourcing Strategy. MIS Q. 32, 385–409. ↩︎

  10. Eberlein, A., Succi, G., Paulson, J.W., 2004. An Empirical Study of Open-Source and Closed-Source Software Products. IEEE Trans. Softw. Eng. 30, 246–256. ↩︎

  11. Stewart, K.J., Gosain, S., 2006. The Impact of Ideology on Effectiveness in Open Source Software Development Teams. MIS Q. 30, 291–314. ↩︎

  12. Casadesus-Masanell, R., Llanes, G., 2011. Mixed Source. Manag. Sci. 57, 1212–1230. ↩︎

  13. West, J., Gallagher, S., 2005. (PDF) Patterns of open innovation in Open Source software [WWW Document]. ResearchGate. URL (accessed 12.11.18). ↩︎

  14. O’Mahony, S., Ferraro, F., 2007. The Emergence of Governance in an Open Source Community. Acad. Manage. J. 50, 1079–1106. ↩︎

  15. Shaikh, M., Vaast, E., 2016. Folding and Unfolding: Balancing Openness and Transparency in Open Source Communities. Inf. Syst. Res. 27, 813–833. ↩︎

  16. Shaikh, M., Henfridsson, O., 2017. Governing open source software through coordination processes. Inf. Organ. 27, 116–135. ↩︎

  17. Shaikh, M., Cornford, T., 2010. “Letting go of Control” to Embrace Open Source: Implications for Company and Community, in: 2010 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. Presented at the 2010 43rd Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, pp. 1–10. ↩︎

  18. Daniel, S.L., Maruping, L.M., Cataldo, M., Herbsleb, J., 2018. The Impact of Ideology Misfit on Open Source Software Communities and Companies. MIS Q. 42, 1069–1096. ↩︎