November 6, 2011
Here’s a great post on the Instructables forums where users discuss the motivation to create an Instructable. (In case you haven’t heard of it, Instructables is basically a site full of DIY instructions, so the question that’s being asked is why people create DIY projects and then post them on the web for free).
The ~20 motivations identified at the link can probably be generalized to all “open source” projects, where creators are giving away the essential content for free. My understanding is that the idea of open source is still a mystery to some people. Why would you want to program for free, for example? Many extremely talented programmers spend lots of time - time they could be using to earn more money, or just relax - contributing to major projects from which they won’t see any monetary return. Although not really “open source”, the same is true for the vast majority of people who blog, or create YouTube videos, too.
The motivations listed break down into a few categories, which by the way are not at all neat and may overlap or conflict, or both at once:
Recognition: Contests, “Internet fame and glory”, feedback
The desire to fix what’s broken: Frustration with other projects, wanting others to avoid headaches
Self-interest: Job searching, practice (but why post?), portfolio
Altruism: Giving back to the DIY community, empathy
A long discussion could be had - and certainly has been had - about how all these line up with the various needs of human beings. But in seeing the sheer number of reasons why someone might create content, and the complex ways in which they often reinforce each other, I actually find it surprising that anybody finds open source content creation surprising. It draws on more sources of motivation than even many very good managers can muster. It’s true you don’t get a paycheck, except you might if you use your work to get a job or start a company. And you have total autonomy to work as much or as little as you might want.