Reciprocity in FOSS Developer Communities

Intervenant(s) : Rolf Pawelzik

  • Langue : Anglais
  • Type d'événement : Conférence
  • Date : Maandag 8 juli 2013
  • Horaire : 15h20
  • Durée : 40 minutes
  • Lieu : H 2213
Thème : Gemeenschappen
Public cible : DécideursGeeksGrand publicProfessionnels


This presentation introduces and tests a novel approach in the study of cooperative interactions among developers of a Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) project.

FOSS developers cooperate predominantly with knowledge contributions to information requests in mailing lists. This situation has similarities with a ’donation game’ in which players, a donor and a recipient, are paired and the donor strategically decides to cooperate (provide information) or to defect (do nothing). This game involves a social dilemma, as cooperation is costly for the donor and beneficial for the recipient, so that defection is considered the preferred strategy.

Evolutionary game theory has shown that cooperation in a donation game evolves when a minimal number of players exist which play a conditional strategy based on past interactions. This study tests the hypothesis that the conditional strategy of FOSS developers is based on reciprocity expectations, rather than morality judgments, since frequent interactions create new opportunities to directly or indirectly receive compensating benefits from other developers.

For each studied project, it was measured how well developers satisfy reciprocity expectations in terms of created reciprocal cycles in cooperation networks. It turned out that the relationship between the number of reciprocal cycles and the volume of cooperative interactions is well approximated by a power law with positive exponent. The distribution of this exponent shows significant variety between projects and seems to indicate how efficient developers are in transforming conditional cooperation decisions into a system of generalized exchange.

This indicator is compared with its numerical boundaries of potentially optimal (minimal, maximal) allocations and with other numerical and topological indicators to assess its validity.


Rolf Pawelzik has a background in computer science, software engineering, and FOSS community research. For several years, he developed web community portals (business and backend logic) for large and medium sized companies in Germany. During that time he became a enthusiastic and permanent user of FOSS products. After that period he decided to join a research center to study FOSS communities as a socio-technical phenomenon. During that time, he applied advanced methods from the natural sciences to mine the vast amount of publicly available data about human cooperative behavior.