I just read this interesting Forbes article (via Ostatic) about individuals contributing more to open source than institutions.  First off, the article is not talking about whether individuals or OSS institutions (aka vendors) create open source code.  Everyone accepts that key open source projects are no longer the purview of a few interested souls on evenings and weekends.  Rather, these projects are vendor driven and the majority (~99.99%) of content created by the project is done so by an employee of the vendor behind the given project.

The Forbes article talks about contributions that come into projects from outside the vendor.  Most of these contributions will be bug fixes, new feature request or in rare cases, actual code for new functions.  Based on info from Alfresco and Eclipse, Forbes asks why this user contributions come from individuals and not corporate intuitions.  Matt is quoted:

“Asay explained that huge companies and large systems integrators were using Alfresco for large-scale development projects in which tens of millions of dollars were being invested. But while the individual users of Alfresco regularly send back contributions of bug fixes and feature suggestions, the company rarely hears from institutional users, whether they used the licensed version or not.”

The problem is that institutions are not yet familiar with how to contribute code outside their enterprise while retaining their IP rights and minimizing any real or perceived risk.  Gartner suggests that these companies need an “Open Source Policy“.  I haven’t read the Gartner article but I suspect that a part of this policy would discuss how an employee can interact with, and contribute to, an open source project.  Working at a large organization, I know the importance of policies (and yes, IBM has a policy and process for interacting with open source projects).

Without these policies, I suspect that employees at these institutions using open source are simply contributing to the projects “on their own time”.  That Alfresco gets bug fixes from individuals but not institutional users is proof of this to me.  Alfresco is not software that you or I would use for personal purposes.  When an “individual” is contributing fixes to Alfresco, that individual is very likely part of an institution that is using Alfresco in some fashion during his/her day job.

Institutions would be more willing to contribute to open source projects if there were a handful of “standard” contribution policy templates that institutions could adopt.

What do you think?  Does your company have a contribution policy?