Maintenance costs of open source projects

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Adding users to software projects has a marginal cost. This means that having 10 users is likely going to cost a developer the same amount of money than having 100 users. Particularly for open source software this means that if a project explodes and gathers thousands of users around it overnight, the developers will not incur in large expenses (or in any at all).

However, there is another side, associated with the maintenance costs. Development costs of open source software may be offset by personal gain, but keeping a project alive has little reward as to make it for free[@eghbal2020Working in public: the making and maintenance of open source software]. After a project is released, it is hard to know what its chances of long-term success are going to be. Here, defining success as continuous engagement and development.

It can be argued that open-source projects can leverage the input from the community, but it all comes down to the attention a maintainer can give to the contribution. Moreover, Nadia Eghbal points to extractive contributions to open source projects, which require more investment from the developers than the value they gain. This is mitigated by lowering the maintenance burden of open source projects.

Scientific open source projects are a clear example of what happens when incentives are removed. Releasing code is highly rewarded, but maintaining it is completely neglected by the community. After you release a package, there is no way you can justify allocating time for it unless it is tied to your own personal and career interests.


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Aquiles Carattino
Aquiles Carattino
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