So this is what I think about when I’m being insomniac during the holidays…

As my dear readers are aware, I’m obsessed with the set of problems and/or questions (probably depending on how you look at it) surrounding the motivation for participating in and contributing to open projects such as Wikipedia, and the free rider problem and how to avoid it.

There are a few articles that I’m aware of that address the motivations for participating in open source software development projects: one, two, three, four.

But it occurred to me in the wee hours that projects like Wikipedia and the Open Directory Project (can I just say how unfortunate I’ve always thought the acronym DMOZ is?) are different than OSS projects because the product is different. There are significant differences between information sources and applications, and surely the sets of motivations for participating in projects to create them differ. Or, I should say: my hypothesis is that the motivations for participating in projects to create open information sources are different from the motivations for participating in OSS projects.

So, once again, I’m putting an idea for a research project out there and asking someone else to do it. Take the data collection instruments from studies of motivations for participating in OSS projects, and figure out how they should be modified to study motivations for participating in information source creation.

Note that I am not including volunteer question-answering services like Yahoo Answers and KnowledgeIN in the category of open information sources. Again, I hypothesize that the motivations for participating in volunteer question-answering services are different from participating in projects to create open information sources. Again, the product is different, as is the model of information dissemination. So there you go: a third variation for your data collection instruments.

Update, 12/4: I just discovered that a paper on this very topic, and that somewhat alarmingly even shares the same title as this post, appeared in the November issue of CACM. I swear I didn’t know about this before now. The author categorized motivations according to the six motivational categories identified in this other study. Wikipedians were found to be motivated most strongly by fun and ideology, with values, understanding, and enhancement a second cluster of motivations. The fact that fun and not understanding is the top motivator is a little surprising to me.