Institute for Software Research
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Economic Congruence in Open Source Ecologies:
Aligning Incentives and Architecture

James Herbsleb, Roberto Weber, Yuanfang Cai*, Thomas Finholt**

April 2008


Keywords: Software development, congruence, economic congruence

This position paper suggests how one could use game theory to describe the incentive structure of open source ecologies, and shows how the structure and payoffs of the game are dependent on the architecture of the software. This incentive structure is critical to open source ecologies which, unlike many individual open source projects, are defined by significant participation by firms. We describe how firm participation in an open source ecology can be modeled as two games. One is a variety of a weak-link coordination game, in which the payoff to a firm depends on other firms also deciding to participate. The second is a public goods game, where all firms benefit from contributions to the public good, but defectors have an incentive to free ride on the efforts of others. The structure of both games is crucially dependent on the interdependence between players, which can be modeled by the software architecture, which determines, for example, the extent to which the open source architecture can support independent extension and evolution of individual components developed by different participants. The incentives for contribution will vary greatly among firms, as will the number of players who care about a particular component, and the payoff from maintaining and enhancing it. Based on prior research, all of these factors are highly likely to influence the behavior of participants, and have a major impact on the success of the ecology. We conclude with several research questions raised by our analysis.

10 pages

*Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
**University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

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