First Monday

FLOSS at Large by Yuwei Lin



The free/libre open source software (FLOSS) has emerged as an important phenomenon in the ICT sector as well as in the wider public domain. A new research strand has attracted scholars and practitioners to analyse the development of FLOSS from many perspectives. While the FLOSS community continues to grow, diverse actors (e.g., developers, firms, end–users, organisations, governments, etc., just to name a few) are brought into play. Meanwhile, a variety of apparatuses and inscriptions (e.g., technical ones such as software and hardware tools, socio–economical ones such as licences, educational ones such as certificates, and socio–cultural ones such as on/off–line discussion forums) are developed and employed to maintain the practice. The complex composition of the FLOSS community entails a heterogeneous field where innovation is socio–technically constructed. Practices and norms in the FLOSS community are interpreted differently in support of individual demands (social, economic, political, technical) of the actors. Such a heterogeneous world resembles an ecological system that contains diversity while resources (information, knowledge and tools) are commonly shared amongst actors. While the open source pattern has been said to be a means through which black–boxed software innovation can be opened up and users empowered, it would be worth studying how communication between actors is undertaken to bridge their differences. Indeed, good communications can engage actors with different backgrounds in the community, encourage cooperation with each other and enhance mutual trust. However, debates and conflicts taking place in the development of FLOSS will also shape its future innovation. It would be interesting to study these various views in the community, see how they are conveyed and negotiated, and then analyse the implications of FLOSS innovation in the broader sense.

While the dimensions of the materiality and immateriality of FLOSS remain obscure in much social studies, these seven papers, based on a one–day symposium at the 4SEASST (4S=Society for Social Studies of Science; EASST=European Association for the Study of Science and Technology) 2004 joint conference held in Paris from 25–28 August given by researchers from six different countries, offer a varied and stimulating contribution to debates about the FLOSS development in research, covering issues such as social arrangements of developing and implementing FLOSS across countries, interactions between users and developers, demography of the FLOSS community, and political–economic dimension of the FLOSS development. Each paper raises interesting and important empirical and/or theoretical issues in the emerging FLOSS studies. End of article


About the author

Yuwei Lin, Taiwanese, is a PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology at the University of York, U.K. Her principal research interests are in free/libre open source software (FLOSS) studies, digital culture, especially in relation to online community and hacker culture, and sociology of science and technology. She had been conducting fieldwork and interviewing free software developers and users at various FLOSS and hacker conferences in Europe.
E–mail: yl107 [at] york [dot] ac [dot] uk



My heartfelt thanks go to Ruben Wendel de Joode (Delft University of Technology) and Shay David (Cornell University) for helping organize this symposium. I would also like to express my gratitude to all presenters and participants at the symposium who contributed precious knowledge, discussions and comments to this event.

Editorial history

Paper received 22 September 2004; accepted 1 October 2004.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2004, First Monday

Copyright ©2004, Yuwei Lin

Introduction: FLOSS at Large
by Yuwei Lin
First Monday, volume 9, number 11 (November 2004),