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Contrasting Community Building in Sponsored and Community Founded Open Source Projects


A case study of a project, VistA, the primary healthcare information system for the US Department of Veterans affairs, which has been moved from it’s corporate (closed source) context into a public open-source project. Two different models of open source communities are proposed: sponsored and community founded open source projects.
Community founded projects are usually structured to prevent a takeover by an organization. Community founded project in their purest form build both the technical and organizational infrastructure of a project from the ground up with volunteers. As they mature they create a series of major releases, have clear membership criteria, adopt governance mechanisms and have an ecology of organizations that support their work.
Sponsored projects originate when an internally developed product gets released to the public under an open source software license and an external community is created. Sponsors invest in the organizational and technical foundations of the project and fulfill an ongoing role in providing direction. Sponsored projects can run into problems when the corporate sponsor fails to relinquish control. Contributors to sponsored projects may be concerned with their legal rights to the code they have helped develop.

Key issues for creating sponsored projects:

  • building a collaboration infrastructure
  • designing governance mechanisms
  • making key decisions about licensing and relationships to external commercial efforts

The mechanisms and success of using open source as a technology transfer mechanism varies based on:

  • on-going technology needs: e.g. in an exit strategy control will be less likely but so will organizational support.
  • Applicability of technology to external needs
  • Financial goals and constraints

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