Absorptive Capacity And Open Source Software Project Performance

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Daniel, Sherae Lee
Agarwal, Ritu
Stewart, Katherine
The open source phenomenon is an exciting movement that is transforming traditional forms of software development. Some open source software (OSS) projects, such as Linux and Apache, are performing extremely well and rapidly replacing proprietary software in major corporations and governments. In addition to these highly publicized examples, there are legions of OSS projects that have not experienced a similar uptake. The purpose of this dissertation is to understand how and why some OSS projects are able to perform better than others. It explores antecedents of OSS project performance from a knowledge-focused perspective because software development is a knowledge-intensive activity. In particular, it examines the development and effects of absorptive capacity for an OSS project. Absorptive capacity captures the degree to which an organization is able to acquire and assimilate knowledge. In describing how OSS absorptive capacity is developed, this dissertation identifies characteristics and behaviors of project participants that indicate an OSS project's absorptive capacity. I underscore the importance of the characteristics and behaviors of two different sets of project participants in an OSS project: those in the Internet-based user community and those in the development group. To the extent that absorptive capacity influences OSS project performance, I argue that these characteristics and behaviors are critical for OSS project performance. Archival data about OSS projects that use the SourceForge platform are used to empirically test the model developed. This dissertation makes several contributions to theory and practice. The research informs project managers regarding the participants to target and behaviors to encourage that will lead to superior performance for their OSS project. In exploring the effect of absorptive capacity in an OSS project, this dissertation adds to the absorptive capacity literature by examining the interaction of two dimensions of this construct: knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer. Finally, this dissertation extends the OSS literature by specifically exploring the effect of the Internet-based user community on OSS project performance.