Community-based production: do they need a roadmap? The Debian case

The Debian Project yesterday announced the release of “etch”, the last version of Debian.
The press release reported that it took 21 months of development to create this release. Whether you consider contributing to Debian a work or a joy, it would be interesting to know how much would have cost to develop “etch” from scratch.

roadmapRoadmap by Pinocure

Being based exclusively on volunteer contributions, Debian can’t grant the availability of all packages included in the previous version, as results from “Evolution of Volunteer Participation in Libre Software Projects: Evidence from Debian“. Packages maintained by volunteers who left the project become unmaintained (“orphaned”) and the probability that an orphaned package gets adopted by other maintainers is not 1.

[..] maintainers who left Debian between July 1996 and December 2004 were responsible for 33.5% of the packages in 2.0, 67.5% of these packages can still be found in 3.0.

The Constitution itself can’t help much when a volunteer decide to exit and no one is willing to take care of his or her tasks. It is worth to notice that within an hybrid production model paid employees are often responsible for less attractive tasks, as results from “GNOME, a case of open source global software development“:

Paid employees are usually responsible for the following tasks: project de- sign and coordination, testing, documentation, and bug fix- ing. These tasks are usually less attractive to volunteers. By taking care of them, the paid employees make sure that the development of GNOME continues at a steady pace.

Corporate production has to be on Time on Budget. The firm solves the problem of finding the efficient management of human resources through time not allowing the free entry and exit, and delegating production control to a manager.

Community-based production on the contrary allows volunteers to enter and choose their tasks. Volunteers choosing what to do apply for tasks they like, and that they are likely to accomplish effectively. They can also freely exit from a project though, or not to end their tasks on time.

How open source firms will approach the hybrid production model? Whatever is your guess, read the following (old) excerpt from the Debian Weekly News – December 2nd, 2003:

Debian Roadmap? The project was asked if there was a roadmap for the Debian distribution, so that certification can be organised accordingly. Ben Collins pointed out that Debian hardly has release goals and Jonathan Dowland added that a smaller group of loose-knit volunteers has managed to agree on a roadmap.

Technorati Tags: Debian, Coordination costs, Hierarchy, hybrid production model