Open Source Business models: to be or not to be community-driven

While Seth Grimes was in Rome we took a chance to have a nice chat talking of open source business models, and we happened to discuss about differences between proprietary and open source business models.

How old is your community? by Insane Zamboni

Characterizing Open as Altruistic and Closed as Profit-driven is, agreed, too black-and-white to explain the many businesses that seek to profit from open source. But on reflection, I like my table as-is. Open-source businesses are universally hybrids, whether they seek to profit from their altruism – those companies such as CentricCRM and Pentaho that sell support for software offerings that are completely free, open source – versus those such as SugarCRM and JasperSoft that are altruistic only to the point where they can attract paying customers for the closed parts of their software stacks. Open-source businesses span the table columns. Whether Open or Closed predominates in a given case depends on the particular business model.

Reading Seth’s back thoughts on what characterizes open and closed business models, I got back to the idea that classifying Open Source production models is not a mere academic curiosity. On the contrary it makes a lot of sense, since it affects at large the software life-cycle.

Corporate Open Source

Hybrid Open Source


An Open Source firm

A multi-stakeholder entity

Product development

Driven by corporate economics

Driven by product functionality


Limited numbers, all employed by the supplier, not reachable from outside the organization.

Varies from a small to very large group of developers. Often permanently employed by the original author or other firms, volunteers or sponsored.


Commonly not organised, every user maintains – if any – direct contact with the supplier independently from other users.

Users participate in virtual communities and discuss among themselves and with the developers about the product, potentially influencing its development.

The original version (edited) was extracted by the Open Source Maturity Model document

While I can’t agree with Dion Almaer that if a company open sources its software it is a token gesture, I believe he raised some very important issues, describing what he meant for community driven open source – or hybrid production model, in my words.

If you don’t have any committers from outside of your company. You probably aren’t community driven.

If you didn’t spend time cleaning up documentation for the community when you opened it up. You probably aren’t community driven.

If your users haven’t helped with the documentation if it is lacking. You probably aren’t community driven.

If you do not have some kind of forums/lists where people help each other out. You probably aren’t community driven.

If you aren’t willing to put in a lot of effort to build your community to get true benefits. You probably aren’t community driven.

I don’t think an Open Source firm has to fulfill all of these requirements to proudly call itself community-driven, but if they can’t positively answer any of them I doubt they are taking part of a so-called community.

I warmly suggested Carlo Daffara to take into consideration also this aspect when describing open source business models within FLOSSMETRICS.

Is your Open Source Firm different?

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