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Boredom Drives Open-Source Developers? 199

Henry McClyde writes "Chris Anderson of The Long Tail posted an article yesterday in which he claims that "spare cycles" — or boredom and the tons of people who wish they had something better to do — is what drives Web 2.0.... and the open source development community. While Web 2.0 in general is driven by "the long tail," NeoSmart seems to have taken up issue with Anderson's claims that open source developers (and other freeware programmers in general) do what they do because they're bored and have nothing better to spend their time on. Same with Wikipedia contributors, and bloggers in general."
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Boredom Drives Open-Source Developers?

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  • Wrong (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Billosaur ( 927319 ) * <> on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:18AM (#19019769) Journal

    Spare cycles power Slashdot...

  • by monkeyboythom ( 796957 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:21AM (#19019801)

    maybe it is not about being bored but more about not wanting to do that crappy assignment your boss wants you to do? Maybe creating a better disk partition method for detecting NTSF, sizing correctly, and loading GRUB efficiently feels better to do than that cover sheet for the TPS report?

    People want to feel useful at work. Certainly the greatest percentage doesn't do it for the money so what about doing something useful with your time than being a cog in someone else's soulless business machine?

    • by packetmon ( 977047 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:36AM (#19019967) Homepage
      Actually, I develop stuff for myself out of... "I wonder if I can automate this so I won't have to do it again..." Typical lazy sysadmin stuff. Most of the times I end up creating my own little program of sorts and at times I usually post stupid/handy little scripts. Does it qualify for open source, perhaps. Maybe that's why I'm always bored, I've been automating my work for too long
      • Next step is to develop artificial intelligence so the computer will do it all for you.

        Then you will have truly mastered the art of the sysadmin.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by houghi ( 78078 )
        I think most people do that. At least with smaller programs and scripts. The fact that you end up spending way much more time then you could actualy win the first time is irrelevant.

        e.g. I made a script makeSUSEdvd [] so I did not need to do the process manually each month. The time I gained by doing it with a script is completely and utterly lost by the time I spend making and perfecting the script.

        The up side is that several thousand of people have enjoyed it and it is the basis for making your own SUSE base []
    • by loconet ( 415875 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:36AM (#19019971) Homepage
      I totally agree. I have personally, in several occasions, taken a break from my job as a programmer by coding something else. Maybe in a different language, something totally unrelated to my day to day projects and usually something that I would release as open source. In a way, it helped me maintain my sanity while I did something I love to do. However, nowadays I rather go out for a run and enjoy real sun light.
      • Probably the need to do something useful, that one can be proud of. Sure, I'd be bored without it, but I think a lot of developers want to work on something that they can call their own. No one is standing over them, they do it their own way, for better or worse. When it does work out, and performs like it should, then they can be proud of themselves.

        Here's my blog [] where I talk about my work.
        It's important to always lay the cards on the table, and be truthful about what is going on with one's work, for bet

    • <i>maybe it is not about being bored but more about not wanting to do that crappy assignment your boss wants you to do? </i>
      Well, in order to stop me giving in and getting a TV I wrote a book. Now that's finished my next project is a risk management toolset. In my case it's not so much boredom, it's the fear of distracting myself in non-productive ways when I could be doing something interesting.
      • by samkass ( 174571 )
        I've used the "it's more fun than watching TV" argument a lot for a lot of the "little" development projects I've done. But for the big stuff one person sitting with a laptop on a couch instead of watching TV doesn't cut it so much.

        Incidentally, I suspect open source and "side projects" are going to get a whole lot more hours devoted to them now that Scrubs is ending. And maybe we should all thank the networks for not picking up Firefly.
    • Still sounds like boredom to me: boring job. Note that while the job might be boring it can be still useful.
    • Boredom is what got me started. My mindless job was driving me crazy, but then I realized it was up to me to change it and started working on stuff that I thought was important. At first, I thought the chances of success were 0, but now I'm seeing buyin and I'm engaged. Not always, but it is much better. One of the biggest benefits has been the participation in an open source project. It is cliche but I can't believe how helpful the people are and how important that community is to me. Something I used to
    • I'm going to make a leap here and guess that most open source development does NOT happen on company time unless the company sanctions it... usually for their own purposes. Not that SOME people can't get away with spending hours doing something other than their TPS report cover sheets, but most can't.

      Though I have some doubts about this "boredom drives OSS idea." Sure, programmers might be bored if they didn't have some fun/intersting programming to do... but certainly that can't drive them. I mean, you hav
    • Isn't your description the functional equivalent of boredom? I'm not sure how I would see any difference between a situation where you were just plain bored and a situation where you were nominally interested but still felt that your work assignment was crappy. I guess I see that you, yourself, could differentiate between the two, but to a third party I think the two situations look alike.

      My take on Long Tail is that Chris Anderson uses the term "bored" as a sort of short-hand for the variety of emotio
    • Maybe the paradoxon is work. They observe that persons "work for free". what they don't see is the force which drives people to do what they find meaningful. In fact the labour system is suboptimal as it leads to a misallocation of talent.
  • girlfriends and OSS (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AndyST ( 910890 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:22AM (#19019819)
    I was about to start an open source project, mostly to educate myself as my current IT jobs is custom one-time software only. Well, to make it short, I recently got a girlfriend. No more OSS coding for me.
    • by danbert8 ( 1024253 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:29AM (#19019907)
      HAHAHA, like we believe that. Let me give you a slashdot translation lesson:
      Post says, "I recently got a girlfriend". Post means "I recently found a porn magazine".
      Post says, "I was about to start an open source project". Post means "I was using an open source program and I thought it was decent so I considered writing a MAN page for it".
      Lesson 1 completed. Tomorrow's lesson, how to talk to a n00b.
    • by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @10:05AM (#19020301) Homepage Journal

      Just wait till you have a wife. I try writing my own stuff and I never have the time to. I actually have stuff to do at work, so I can't work on anything there, and when I go home my wife insists that I "spend time" with her. And, apparently, tapping away at my Powerbook while she watches TV doesn't count.

      I'm hopeful that once we have a kid I'll be relegated to the role of grocery courier and she'll have someone else to bother all the time. But I'm not going to hold my breath. (First kid's due in October.)

      • by Creepy ( 93888 )
        I have a similar situation, but I usually still have time for OSS because I trade sleep for dev time a couple days of the week. I also get a couple of hours because I don't need as much sleep as my wife, so technically it's not really trading except when I get so enrapt in the project that I lose track of time and realize I work in 3 hours. If I were doing the project because I was bored, I certainly wouldn't trade sleep for it - I do it because I'm fascinated by the subject matter, which is a far cry fro
      • by Maltheus ( 248271 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @04:44PM (#19027089)
        Perhaps someone could explain the upside of family to me then. Seriously. I'm unlike everyone else I know because I have little interest in answering to a wife or taking care of kids every minute. I'm so swamped now, even without them, that I never have enough time for all the fun and fulfilling projects I work on. So outside of sex, and having someone to go out to eat with, what precisely is the appeal of marriage for everyone? No one ever regrets their kids, but kids also seem to suck the life out of everyone I've met. They just have this droning voice and distant stare as they say they don't ever regret it. I truly wish I could understand this better. Everyone else seems to just get it. Are they posing or am I just that disconnected?
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by mr_e_cat ( 611996 )
          There is a tacit conspiracy between all parents. They won't admit that having kids pretty much ended their life. They now live for their children.

        • Well, there is something to spending your life with your best friend. Life experiences tend to mean a lot more if you can share them with someone. And a good wife will understand if you want to have time to tinker on your own projects (well, mine does, anyway).

          Kids, though... that I don't get ('course, neither does my wife). :)
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by TheCarp ( 96830 ) *
      I could see that. To be honest, I was getting into some OSS stuff, Debian development, starting to look at more projects. That was back before I got my first girlfriend, and we lived together, it lasted a bit through it... (it was a pointless relationship and centered mostly around sex, we had little in common, which left me free to mostly continue my non-social hobbies..eventually it ended and she moved out)

      but overall, I can't bring myself to take on new projects anymore. Its left me very bored sometimes.
  • by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:23AM (#19019831)
    325 webcam drivers anyone? [] I mean, what else other than boredom would prompt someone to write 523 webcam drivers?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I mean, what else other than boredom would prompt someone to write 523 webcam drivers?
      Just a wild guess, but perhaps interest in the fair lass who's window is across the way from your own + a disdain for Windows?
    • Maybe his daughters had 235 non-working webcams, keeping them busy, thus keeping him bored?
    • by l3v1 ( 787564 )
      I mean, what else other than boredom


    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kabocox ( 199019 )
      325 webcam drivers anyone? [] I mean, what else other than boredom would prompt someone to write 325 webcam drivers?

      325 possibly hot chicks waiting for web cam drivers ...
    • He wrote a driver for a chipset that is used in a lot of cameras. He didn't write hundreds of separate drivers.
  • on a particularly slow week at work i wrote an incremental backup utility in C. it doesnt do anything special; it was mostly because i wanted to re-learn C. i'm planing on releasing it under a BSD license, but that probably wont happen until i get another slow week.
  • Procrastination (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gertlex ( 722812 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:23AM (#19019837)
    I edit Wikipedia, "tinker" with programs and graphics, and blog all as a means for relaxation from whatever work I should be doing (homework, in my case). Gaming tends to take long periods of time... and that's a prime formula for guilt trips about laziness ;)

    It's the same with READING Web 2.0 content... And why I'm reading /. and posting here.
  • What? (Score:4, Funny)

    by packetmon ( 977047 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:24AM (#19019843) Homepage
    You know... I was bored and decided to read this article then got an idea... Instead of wasting my life read /., what I should be doing is writing code....

    wget -qO -|\
    ruby -lne 'puts STDIN.readlines.reverse!.slice(0,2).reverse!;#suck er'|\
    perl -p -e 's/[0-9]//g;s/X/ /g'|\
    ruby -pe '$_ = $_.chomp + " " + gets if $. % 2'
  • True by definition (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Diomidis Spinellis ( 661697 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:24AM (#19019845) Homepage
    open source developers (and other freeware programmers in general) do what they do because they have nothing better to spend their time on.

    This is by definition true for any activity we undertake. If there was something more profitable, enjoyable, pressing, useful to do, we (as rational thinkers) would be doing it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by archen ( 447353 )
      I think the only thing that even makes this noteworthy is the inflammatory slashdot summary which claims "wish they had something better to do". It makes it sound like the article is from a person that can't comprehend someone would program for enjoyment. But then again the article doesn't use that terminology at all...
  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bueller_007 ( 535588 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:26AM (#19019867)
    So what's wrong with that? What's wrong with converting one's boredom or downtime into a product that benefits people?

    I haven't read the article, so I don't know if this is supposed to be a slam against open-source contributors or not, but I think it's safe to say that people who choose to do this with their free time are certainly being more productive than those who just sit and play Evercrack for hours on end.

    If these people were charging for their product, you'd call their motivation "entrepreneurial spirit", but since they're giving it away, you slight them by saying that they contribute only because they're bored?
    • by thpr ( 786837 )
      What's wrong with converting one's boredom or downtime into a product that benefits people?

      I am an open source developer. I don't think it reflects *at all* on the challenge in my job (which is interesting and I'm very busy), but it *is* a reflection that software development is *different* than my day job, and by using a different part of my brain, I can find the development challenges in an open source project to be relaxing.

      Maybe one could argue that is a form of "boredom", but if so, does volunteer

  • I don't know if it's boredom, that's probably part of it. Sometimes you see a need in an area and are feeling generous, sometimes you need something done and the tools aren't available, or free. And probably sometimes, we're just bored and are looking for something to do. I think most contributors are either trying to fill a gap in their set of applications, or just simply want to contribute to OSS.
  • well, in part (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jimstapleton ( 999106 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:29AM (#19019901) Journal
    It also involves wanting to help others out, or make something better for themselves.

    Some similar things outside of computers:

    1) (this is a bit in excess of what OSS typically has in terms of altruism) - I have friends who do Habitat For Humanity on Saturdays. One could say this is out of boredom, but it is also (and one case) more believably out of desire to help others.

    2) I know a lot of people who do their own home maintenance and "upgrades". This is not only less financially burdensom, but they typically get things done somewhat faster and better than a contractor would.

    All these mindsets mindsets (altruism, desire to have direct control of the quality, and greed) can also cause a person to develop OSS, with or without the presence of a "I have time and don't know what to do with it" state.
    • with or without the presence of a "I have time and don't know what to do with it" state

      I think "I have time" is a necessary condition. Just as obvious to me, "don't know what to do with it" is definitionally false for anyone doing anything with their time, unless it is possible to occupy one's time completely by accident. ("I woke up and discovered I had written a C# library".)

      I think the NeoSmart reaction was a little bit defensive (though a lot less defensive than half the responses here on /.). I didn't interpret Chris Anderson's characterization ("bored") as a pejorative. I thin

      • You can do stuff without having the time.

        In my example, I mentioned Habitat for Humanity, and a friend. She does not have the time to do Habitat for Humanity, but she cuts the time out of other things (usually sleep).

        If you find it important enough, you make the time. That can go as much for OSS dev as for other things.
        • Nope. By definition, your friend has the time, because that's what she chooses to do with it. You said it yourself. We all live in the same time space -- 24 hours in a day for all of us.

          I'm simply not suggesting anything good or bad about spare cycles, but I think we would probably both agree that almost no job requires 100% cycle utilization. Very few things do, which is good, because I'm pretty sure human beings aren't built for that. The spare cycles characterization is still a useful descriptio
  • Money (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Davemania ( 580154 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:31AM (#19019925) Journal
    There are alot of excellent open source project that have very good commercial potential. I remember alot of small startup gaming companies developed free mod for half life not because they were bored but they see it as a way to develop a customer base and as a mean to develop a commercial product.
  • by hsmith ( 818216 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:31AM (#19019927)
    but i do constantly develop outside of work. Work projects are absolutely BORING, doing things on my own engages my brain, allows me to learn new things, and allows me to create things i like.

    I could read books, but I enjoy the architecting a solution to a problem more
  • Boredom (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rovastar ( 822365 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:35AM (#19019955)
    Often boredom leads to half finsihed blog entries, projects and p
  • Hmph (Score:4, Insightful)

    by debrain ( 29228 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:38AM (#19019987) Journal
    [People contributing to open source] do what they do because they're bored and have nothing better to spend their time on

    In a lot of cases, people are contributing to something really meaningful and valuable, and to imply that they have nothing better to do is flat out condescending. If one CAN make the Linux kernel (or whichever project) better, there are very few things to be involved in that would go to benefit the public.

    The implication that people contributing their valuable time to something like open source is only out of boredom and lack of alternatives is absurd and insulting. That may indeed be the reason why some people contribute, to be sure, but to imply that it is of no value to them, or the world, is utterly lunatic. (On the same continuum and with the same absurdity, the opposing exaggeration is that people contributing to open source are doing it for the betterment of mankind, as against the unrelenting corporate machine.)

    I'm fairly certain that the truth lies in the middle, and that for an individual contributing to open source is a valuable way to spend your time because it gives you experience, exposes you to new ideas and people and challenges. As a bonus to the world, these contributions generally improve the publicly accessible wealth of knowledge, ideas and software functionality.

    Any implication that these people are doing something of no value to them or the world is disgusting.
  • by mkcmkc ( 197982 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:42AM (#19020043)
    Most professsional programmers, most of the time, are immersed in an environment where writing a piece of truly excellent software is simply not allowed. Writing Free and Open Source Software is one of the only avenues available to scratch this itch, if you have it.
  • sociology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zarf ( 5735 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:42AM (#19020045) Journal
    In your high school or college sociology class you might have learned that societies are created on the surplus food that a group of humans can create. In other words you don't get tributes to Zeus until there is a surplus of food lying around that the peasants won't mind parting with. The arts, religion, politics, and kingdoms all come from the ready supply of extra food.

    The fewer people that are required to produce crops to feed the maximum amount of people frees those people for the pursuit of things like religion, philosophy, politics, literature, technology, or whatever other discipline doesn't lead to the direct creation of crops and cattle.

    So basically, yes, Open Source is driven on free clock cycles that don't have to be dedicated to survival. This is even true for the company that commissions open source projects for its own use. If the company wasn't creating enough profit to allow for investment in future growth or any risky investment behavior then it wouldn't have the spare cycles to devote to the investment. And, software is risky it only pays off half the time.

    You don't invest in the stock market with your lunch money. You might invest your retirement account in stocks, but not the cash you need to stay alive in the next few days. If the need is too vital it precludes any risk behavior.

    If you want more open source, then create an environment where more people can take the risk of creating open source projects and even potentially waste their time on them. Consider that most projects fail. Most projects do not become popular. There must be enough surplus developer time to support those risks so that the one lucky project that changes everything has the chance to get created and have a few people waste their time on it before it becomes a product.
    • Excellent point. This whole "civilization" thing, along with all the "science" and "economy"-- these are all done out of "boredom". At least, if "doing [something] out of boredom" consists of doing something that isn't absolutely necessary because you have an excess of time and resources.

      Calling it "done out of boredom" belittles the activity without giving you any insight into the motivations. Instead, people should ask, "Out of all the things developers could choose to do 'out of boredom', why are they

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:44AM (#19020061)
    If i'm bored for a long stretch of time I might start a new project, but I _WILL NEVER FINISH IT_ unless i'm fully committed to the project, and forget about supporting it for years. The people that work on many projects as founders or major code contributors do it because they have a passion for it. Many that work on high-profile projects get their job contracts specifically modified to allow for funded development while they retain the rights to their code.

    Not too far from these people are the contributors who submit bug fixes and new features and support. They don't work on this every day but they created a little something they needed and end up sending it back to the source (no pun intended) for the community to enjoy. They probably do it originally out of necessity and send the change back out of generocity and a sense of community.
  • Boredom? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TyFoN ( 12980 )
    Some of the most fun i have is when i work on my private projects.
    Does a painter paint because he's bored?

    I think not! :)

    Being creative is giving me a feeling nothing else can, and I
    think this is true for people since way back when man painted
    on the walls of their caves.
  • by SadGeekHermit ( 1077125 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:46AM (#19020087)
    Saying it's boredom cheapens it.

    Previous generations had hobbies that let technologists use their skills in ways that gave them pleasure. For example, electrical engineers would tinker with Ham Radio sets, and build gadgets. Because at the time there was no internet, these hobbies tended to be personal and private, although there were some magazines that would allow submissions (and sharing of information).

    Modern technologists are far less limited. They have the global internet and the open-source movement, plus a huge infrastructure for sharing information (like Sourceforge and Slashdot) available. It's like a hobbyist renaissance, or maybe the hobbyist version of the Enlightenment.

    Who can resist participating? It's marvellous. Your average nerd (myself included) was picked on throughout his childhood, and surrounded by people who didn't share his interests. Now, suddenly, there's a whole world of people who would just LOVE to help you debug your networked application.

    It's Nerdvana.

    Saying it all derives from boredom is equivalent to saying you don't share our interests, and don't "get" them. It's not cool. We're not bored, we're INSPIRED.

    And it's WAY more fun than what we have to do all day at work.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:51AM (#19020165)
    Well, for anyone that has a kind of hobby, or something that they enjoy doing in their free time - isn't that what it is, 'something to do, because you don't have anything else to do (that they want to....)', and I don't mean this in a bad way.

    Some people choose to spend their free time say. Watching TV, playing video games, playing cards, knitting, gardening, building tiny ships inside of bottles, listening to music, going to the gym, going for a hike - all things that *some* people may enjoy doing, so when they have free time and 'nothing else to do', its what they spend their time on.

    Is it so bad that open source developers chose to spend their time on something they enjoy doing, are passionate about, and helps out thousands of others in the process?

    I'd say an Open Source developer that is contributing to a widely used project is making far better use of their 'spare cycles and boredom', than the fat lump watching American Idol re-runs.
  • by MechaShiva ( 872964 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:52AM (#19020177)
    Totally read that headline wrong. I was wondering what the hell a boredom drive was and why they would open source their developers and not the drivers. Damnit, now my brain hurts.
  • This past year I was very bored.. spent a ton of time working on a PHP framework ( if anyone wants to try it out) that i used for my various sites like []

    now that it's nice outside and i feel less bored, I haven't been working on it at much..
  • by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:56AM (#19020199) Journal another guy's passion.

    Look, this is a stupid argument, akin to saying that they're doing it "even though they're not getting paid for it." Of course open source developers do it to relieve boredom - if I have available time, and I get bored, know what I do? Something that makes me happy.

    The author could have said that open source developers do it because of the joy it brings them, and it would have been functionally equivalent.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Jim Hall ( 2985 )

      Sometimes, open-source / Free software does get created out of boredom. Here's an example from my personal experience:

      1999-2000, I wrote GNU Robots. [] Was it my long-time passion to write a program that simulated a little robot wandering around a large room? No, I did it because I needed to have something to do. My employer had just announced that we would be shutting down the company, so all projects were cancelled, and we were in a "keep the lights on" mode until we transitioned off our customers thro

  • Not in my case (Score:3, Insightful)

    by swillden ( 191260 ) * <> on Monday May 07, 2007 @09:58AM (#19020231) Homepage Journal

    Personally, with a wife and four kids, a 50+ hour-per-week job and lots of hobbies, boredom is not a problem for me. I do contribute to open source projects when I can find the time, but it's definitely something that I have to make time for, because "spare cycles" just don't happen. Mostly, my OSS development time is between 11pm and 2am, when I would (should!) be sleeping.

    Like virtually any other characterization you choose to make about open source developers and open source development, this one is partly true and partly false. Lots of people really want to pigeonhole OSS developers, to fit them neatly into their existing worldviews, but it doesn't work because there is simply too much diversity. To say that there are as many motivations for OSS development as there are OSS developers is really only a small exaggeration. Some people undoubtedly do it out of boredom, some do it as a way to avoid other work, some do it to build a "resume", some do it because they love it, some get paid to do it, some do it for the admiration of their peers, some do it because it's the only way they can get software they like (this is me, mostly, along with the "love it" and, when I'm honest, a little bit of peer admiration)... I'm sure there are plenty of other motivations out there, and I'm sure every OSS developer does it for some blend of reasons.

    If you insist on finding a dominant motive, one that is perhaps more common and leads to more code than any other, I'd nominate "for the love of it". People who don't understand just how much fun writing code can be tend to discount that reason, and for them boredom may perhaps seem a more plausible alternative, given that they have experienced boredom and been led to do useless things to fill their time, but have never experience the rush that comes from creating a finely-crafted and elegant piece of code. IMO, though, "because I can't find a better way to fill my time" is a very weak and unlikely motivation. There are always Star Trek reruns.

    • by obender ( 546976 )

      Personally, with a wife and four kids, a 50+ hour-per-week job and lots of hobbies, boredom is not a problem for me.
      Boredom is a state of mind, it has nothing to do with the hours you are officially busy.
      • Personally, with a wife and four kids, a 50+ hour-per-week job and lots of hobbies, boredom is not a problem for me.
        Boredom is a state of mind, it has nothing to do with the hours you are officially busy.

        Regardless, boredom is not a problem for me. I always have more things I want to do than I have time to do them -- plus a bunch more things I'm supposed to do.

  • by Zelig ( 73519 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @10:16AM (#19020385) Homepage
    Many FOSS types are functioning, simply, as moral and self-interested folks. They appreciate the huge leverage that's been gifted them, and feel both an appreciation and a debt. Both of these encourage contribution.

    Appreciation of the code handed down to us encourages respect for the givers, and a desire to garner some of that appreciation for ones' self. The debt demands payback, or in this case, pay forward.

    That's all you need for the 'moral' part. The 'self-interested' folks have taken it a level further, and understand they have future wins, not just present, if they nurture the value-donating culture.

  • Hobbies? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Zebedeu ( 739988 )
    "(...) Anderson's claims that open source developers (and other freeware programmers in general) do what they do because they're bored and have nothing better to spend their time on. Same with Wikipedia contributors, and bloggers in general"

    You mean, like every other hobby? You do it because otherwise you wouldn't have anything to do with your free time and would, therefore, be bored.
  • Indeed, trying to avoid boredom drives open source development, just like it drives flying to the moon, writing a great symphony, or doing anything else worthwhile. (The other motivations for doing something are being forced to do it, or doing it because one needs the money.)
  • Doing something because you're bored and have nothing better to do... sound like the definition of a hobby to me. If I have nothing to do for several days in a row, I'll consider starting a project. If that project lasts for several days in a row, I'll consider doing it on an ongoing basis; and thus, a hobby is born.

    If what this guy means to say is that "Several people weren't spending their free time driving race cars, collecting model trains, teaching pole dancing classes or saving the world, so they deci
  • ...yet it's not written in such derogatory terms.

    Boredom powers the book publishing industry, the video game industry... hell, just about everything defense, procreation, shelter and food.
  • "because they're bored and have nothing better to spend their time on."

    That's half right.

    A programmer in his downtime can play video games, watch TV, get drunk, or contribute to open source projects. Being an amateur open source contributer is a great hobby, and is a very good thing to spend your time on. Everyone has spare time once in a while; it doesn't mean they're bored.

  • by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @10:30AM (#19020539)
    If you look at history, people who have no time to be bored generally don't find themselves making great leaps in progress. Workmen are certainly hardworking as a class, and many are certainly not dumb, but if you are working all the time on your assigned tasks, it gives you little time to take your notion to fruition. And if you are very focused at your current job, which usually represents some sort of status quo, you're not making progress.

    The fact is that a leisure class with the right motivation and philosophy, can be a real benefit to the rest of society. They have the time and money to "follow their dream", for the most part. Many artists, writers, and scientists in the past held down more or less sinecure positions that paid cash even though they really never actually did the job as specified in the job title. A significant portion of notable contributors to progress and art have been outright aristocratic.

    Boredom can be aimless and cause no end of trouble, but in the right sorts of people, can lead to progress where it could not otherwise exist.

  • Feeling bored is what drives people to do anything else in spare time than conserving energy. It drives creativity and out-of-the-box thinking better than anything else. An extremely useful feature, brought to you by Natural Selection.

    Note how often doing creative work is accused of being driven by boredom, and how seldom watching TV.

  • The biggest contribution that I made to open source did not come from boredom at all. It was more of a political thing. Like all the people you see who donate some of their time to a cause they believe in. They do it because they believe in the cause.
  • I actually agree that, for the most part, open source development happens because of boredom. You know what we call something people do when they are bored? We call it a hobby. Everyone gets bored. There are simply not enough things for people to do to pass the time while also achieving satisfaction. Open source developers should be praised for choosing to spend their free time doing something that is not only productive, but beneficial to the rest of society. Most people just sit on their ass watching TV w
  • I usually work on side projects not because I'm bored with my current work, but because something snags my imagination and I get excited about it. It doesn't mean I'm any less enthralled (no pun intended) with my current work, it's just that people can focus on more than one thing at a time (unless it's chewing gum and walking where statistics certainly conclude....)
  • It is a matter of "we, us" understanding that drives open source. We like it. We like being "us", together with other people working for the same common altruistically beneficial goal. Additionally, this goal brings in other stuff like recognition among peers, some job offers, which just add up to the momentum.

    One just needs to tip the balance a little more to the altruism side. Then s/he feels light as a feather, and any feeling of guilt that results from the recognition and job offers that working on o
  • If someone comes up to you and says that your FOSS work is the result of boredom and having nothing else to do, just smack him and laugh in his face. Then ask him what creative work he has done outside his work hours. On a sidenote, let's suppose you're a scientist, who has let's say 2 hours a day when not doing paperwork or not working on fulfilling some grant's expectations (yes, you live on money too) or not working for someone else etc., then you could say you have two hours of boredom and everything yo
  • I could make the same argument about many things, such as "Rich people make money due to boredom". There are many reasons that people do things and not wanting to do nothing applies to many of these.

  • God forbid different people have different reasons for doing something? Let's just put everyone in a box and label them bored.

    I have my own reasons for contributing to OSS and different reasons for contributing to WikiBooks. Neither of them has much to do with boredom. Besides this stuff (though, my contributions to wikibooks has been a little slow lately) I have a full-time job as a software engineer, take 16 hours a week of classes pursuing two degrees, and work about 8-15 hours a week as a research assis
  • IMHO, folks who produce open source do so from four major backgrounds:

    1. Paid to do so. A number of folks are paid by various companies to make sure that companies' products operate properly with open source software. This is a relatively new phenomenon which did not contribute to open sources' original growth.

    2. Side-effect of career. When I worked for for an ISP, I produced software to improve our business. The software wasn't the product; the services were. So I was able to release some of the software a
  • I'll denigrate it"
  • by Deorus ( 811828 ) on Monday May 07, 2007 @03:45PM (#19026031)
    I have lots of ideas and the required skills to implement them, and my mind is quick to understand most problems as well as to react to them, the problem is that I seem to lack the motivation or the discipline to keep myself focused on something. I start a project, write like 90% of it, and then when it comes to put the pieces together and make everything work I just give up...

    Last time this happened was on the YopyNG project [], I was porting the 2.4.28 Linux kernel to the Yopy YP3700 PDA and everything was going perfectly. The drivers were all working and the new kernel was responding much faster than the original one ported by G-mate (the manufacturer), but there was a final bug to resolve: for some reason people were reporting random kernel panics that I never managed to reproduce, and all of a sudden I lost interest in the project, especially when G-mate disappeared and the Yopy died.

    For years I've wondered why this is happening to me and envied people like David Reveman (cmpiz's father) for their ability to remain focused on their personal projects as well as quiet about them until it's time to come out and show the community what they've made, and the culprit has always seemed to be my lack of discipline, but after reading this article I'm beginning to believe that perhaps there's more to it than what I thought, perhaps I have too much to entertain myself with and will have to accept the fact that no matter what I do, I'll never be like those people...
  • wasting my leisure time on slashdot when i could contribute more by picking up some more php/xml/javascript skills to improve my site...
  • If this article is any indication, open-source developers cause boredom.

    OMG, I think we've discovered a perpetual motion machine!
  • >That certainly is an interesting way of looking at it.
    >Here are the people that make more than half of the software on any given computer
    What... I'm writing this from linux now... but if I turn to my right there a whole lab of windows machines that only have *one* piece of open source software on them (firefox).

    >and are the drive behind most (if not all) of the innovation in the software industry
    >being referred to as bored people idly filling their time...

    Open source is the drive behind innovat
  • A lot of developers start coding open source for free... but almost no one would stick it out for the long haul of a big project if they weren't getting paid for it. Do you really think linus would or could afford to keep spending all of his time on the kernel without economic support?

    Projects start for a lot of reasons. Most of the people I know who do open source do it for a mixture of
    1. They are just creative, and part of their personality makes it necessary to do creative things to be happy
    2. They want

Mater artium necessitas. [Necessity is the mother of invention].