Communication on FOSS communities

Some time ago I read this post, which made me think that we are slowly moving from an exchange culture approach to communication, and into a gift culture approach. Once I realized about it, I started seeing that happen daily thanks to Free Software and its approach:

In an exchange culture, social status is primarily determined by having control of things (not necessarily material things) to use or trade. Eg: "free market", "government", etc. They are an adaptation to scarcity.

Gift cultures are adaptations not to scarcity but to abundance: when there isn't scarcity of goods, one can go elsewhere to find them. E.g: aboriginal cultures in mild climates and abundant food, show business, and among the very wealthy. Or open source communities.

Abundance makes command relationships difficult to sustain and exchange relationships an almost pointless game. In gift cultures, social status is determined not by what you control but by what you give away.

E.g: In show business, you have social status because of your ability to create art and gift it to others. Or to provide for opportunities to others. People then monetize their social status.

Open source developers don't have scarcity of CPU cycles, storage, or competing projects to select from. Social status is determined by what you give away as a developer: you give away projects, code, PRs, time put in sharing your technical knowledge. Open source developers don't increase their social status by having control of things to trade.

This made me think. My most successful projects are those where I gave away control. The projects that were "my baby" didn't gain traction, and barely increased my status. The projects that were "my kid", started as "my baby", and grew up. Those met new friends that made them improve and become something bigger, and became autonomous adults surrounded by their parent, me, and other friends and acquaintances. They gained traction and increased my status.

Technical communication is part of that gift culture; and if you contribute to Free Software you already perform it in Github PRs and by having technical discussions.

Moreover, having technical discussions on a mailing list is like asking your questions in public. Which aligns with the Free software tenets and a gift economy:

Private communication cannot be corrected or elaborated on. This deprives both the person asking and the person responding of the true correct answer.

Conversations in private are depriving others of the answer as well. Perhaps someone was curious but hadn't got around to asking? Maybe the answer —or even the question!— contains a clue to solving some other issue. None of this can happen if this is occurs in private.

Also, the appeal of public recognition should not be understated and can certainly provide an incentive to elaborate and provide a generally superior response.

Public communication can be referenced in the future; when newcomers join or people return from vacation, parental and sickness leave.

It promotes a culture of egoless conversations, of being able to admit one's mistakes.

Of course, sharing publicly means knowing that "If your words can be perceived in different ways, they'll be understood in the way which does the most harm". So one needs to be careful.

What is your view on the gift economy thesis? Do you recognize similar patterns elsewhere, with open communication?

Don't hesitate to write me about it! Cheers.

Víctor Cuadrado Juan

I'm Víctor Cuadrado Juan, a developer and FOSS enthusiast, in love with Linux. Currently living in Nürnberg, Germany. Feel free to waste your precious time around here, or to contact me.