Yesterday, Lili (my one and only PhD advisee), posted a question to Dig_Ref: where can she find the most recent stats on dig ref services? She got a great response, kicked off by a reply from Buff Hirko, where she said that at ALA, the RUSA MARS Virtual Reference Committee accepted a project to create an online index of all chat services in the US & eventually the world. This is a cool idea, and necessary, since as Buff points out, all of the existing indices are out of date. The plan is to have this index be community-built; Luke suggests a wiki.
I’ve been thinking about community-building around open information sources lately. Wikipedia long ago achieved critical mass & become self-sustaining. But how did that happen? How does a community develop around an open project? Can a community be deliberately fostered? Has anyone done a social history of the evolution of Wikipedia? Have any studies been done on the development of communities around open-source software projects? How do open projects avoid the free-rider problem?
Jeff, in terms of studies you might want to start with Crowston & Howison’s article from the February issue of First Monday. You might also be interested in other work they and their colleagues have done at the FLOSS Research group at the Syracuse School of Information Studies, as well as the online papers archive at MIT’s Free/Open Source Research Community site.
“How do open projects avoid the free-rider problem?” Well, they don’t. Open source projects have lots and lots of free riders. They just don’t look at it as a problem. Those that actively participate do so for a variety of reasons (most people for more than one of those reasons): self-interest (a/k/a “scratching an itch” — user with a niche functionality need decides to start building a tool to meet that need, opens project to get help/harness “Long Tail” effect), personal ethical position about “ownership of code”, belief in power/potential of community, desire to increase reputation/professional contacts/employment opportunities, etc.