Implicit development environments in FOSS infrastructure communities and the future of public good(s) by private means

Open source has become a well-developed field of research, with many contributions into the concept itself, in terms of performance indicators, from a legal and regulatory point of view, the development of production processes, distribution mechanisms, and even how the concept might be applied beyond software development (See Aksulu and Wade 2010). Despite sufficiently described collective-action problems and just as carefully documented socio-technical hopes for commons (See Benkler 2016, et al.), there are still misallocations of (monetary and non-monetary) resources in the OSS ecosystem that the market alone apparently cannot balance.

The aim of this literature review (download link at the bottom) is to present the relationships between value-based self-organization and market-oriented organizational theory from multiple perspectives. Maintenance activities have a particular vanishing point in this regard: maintaining functionality, relationships, and dependencies in a network of behavioral regimes as well as social and technical standards. This network can also be described as “implicit development environments.”

What starts off as a “technical” sphere becomes politicized when it comes time to allocate resources, if not sooner. This politicization in the form of non-material influences on technologies needs investigation with references from various disciplines to identify areas requiring further research. 

Open-source development is a social process that produces information as a public good. Inputs in the form of labor and capital flow into this knowledge-intensive transformation, while, on the output side, information goods emerge which, as a special distinguishing feature, are neither excludable nor rivalrous goods. 

This suggests a bridge between antitrust law and networks of trust or production communities. The “market” for open source and its field rules essentially unfolds between these two poles and negotiation mechanisms. 

Infrastructure as used here is most effectively described with the metaphor of a stack, the connection to protocols and standards, and a consideration of the parallel development of the internet and open-source principles (one as a prerequisite for the other, as shown in Weber 2000; Benkler 2002, among others.

The review then concludes by offering reasons why the promotion of open infrastructures should be considered public services and thus fall into the remit of the non-profit (the so-called third) sector and the state.

Katharina is a researcher/curator and trained STS scholar based in Berlin, exploring i.a. artistic practices and knowledge production at the intersection of society and technologies. In her dayjob, she is a FOSS-Funder and promotes Public Interest Technologies. Katharina is especially interested in ontologies of technical systems and innovation environments.