Open Source Software as Self Service

“Open source software development is the ultimate self-service industry”, says Jeff Atwood in an article looking at possible reasons for the OpenOffice.org project’s dwindling development community. However, it’s Atwood’s thoughts on self service supermarket checkouts that I found most interesting:

What fascinates me about self-service checkout devices is that the store is making you do work they would normally pay their employees to do. Think about this for a minute. You’re playing the role of the paying customer and the cashier employee. Under the watchful eyes of security cameras and at least one human monitor, naturally, but still. We continue to check ourselves out. Not only willingly, but enthusiastically. For that one brief moment, we’re working for the supermarket at the lowest possible pay scale: none.

That’s the paradox of self-checkout. But to me it’s no riddle at all: nobody else in that store cares about getting Jeff Atwood checked out nearly as much as Jeff Atwood does.

On the topic of open source development communities, I also found this quote to be quite poignant:

If you’re having difficulty getting software developers to participate in your open source project, I’d say the community isn’t failing your project. Your project is failing the community.