The Reputation Motive

In the The Cathedral & the Bazaar, Raymond argued that the open source community is a gift culture where participants are motivated by reputation, writing:

There are reasons general to every gift culture why peer repute (prestige) is worth playing for:

First and most obviously, good reputation among one’s peers is a primary reward. We’re wired to experience it that way for evolutionary reasons touched on earlier. (Many people learn to redirect their drive for prestige into various sublimations that have no obvious connection to a visible peer group, such as “honor”, “ethical integrity”, “piety” etc.; this does not change the underlying mechanism.)

Secondly, prestige is a good way (and in a pure gift economy, the only way) to attract attention and cooperation from others. If one is well known for generosity, intelligence, fair dealing, leadership ability, or other good qualities, it becomes much easier to persuade other people that they will gain by association with you.

Thirdly, if your gift economy is in contact with or intertwined with an exchange economy or a command hierarchy, your reputation may spill over and earn you higher status there.

I had trouble with this explanation when I first read it. I never considered a good reputation an end in itself in the way that Raymond presents it here in his first point. The second and third points seemed plausible, but not compelling enough to explain why someone would choose to exchange their free time for repuation.

It wasn’t until I read Networking on the Network, that I started to learn the value of building a network, and with it a repuation. With the rise of open source software, the profession of software development is beginning to resemble that of research, of which Agre writes:

The truth is that the world is made of people. People out of communities are like fish out of water or plants out of soil. Research of all kinds depends critically on intensive and continually evolving communication among people engaged in related projects. Networking cannot substitute for good research, but good research cannot substitute for networking either. You can’t get a job or a grant or any recognition for your accomplishments unless you keep up to date with the people in your community.

Okay. So there’s some motivation to join the open source community. Look out world, here I come!

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