A study of the eCars Open Source Hardware Community

Our new article on the demographics and motivations of an Open Source Hardware (OSH) community, the Finnish eCars – Now! -community, has now been published in First Monday. The study is based on a survey of the community members (conducted in 2010) and subsequent interviews.

The demographics of the members of the OSH community resemble the demographics of members of Open Source Software (OSS) communities studied earlier in that they are predominantly male and highly educated. Moreover, the members are mostly volunteers and “altruistically” motivated. There is one reported motivation that sticks out: 70% of the respondents say that they are participating because they want to contribute to employment and competitiveness in Finland. It is hard to imagine this kind of “patriotic” motivation in typical OSS projects.

There is also one difference with regard to typical OSS communities, namely, that the members of the community are significantly older (30<x<40) than “altruistic” volunteers in OSS communities (typically x<30). We believe this is due to the relatively early stage of the project and, maybe more interestingly, because an OSH project like this demands a wider variety of areas of expertise compared to typical OSS projects. Given the possibility of choosing between IT, transport, electricity, cars and marketing as their professional background, over 40 percent chose “other”.

We also discusses some bottlenecks of OSH projects compared to OSS projects, and ways of mitigating the bottlenecks. The three main differences are: slower development cycles, higher costs, and trouble with regulations/regulators. The 62 directives on cars in the EU create considerable friction and costs for the project. Copying the physical objects takes considerable time and resources. In OSH, the raw material and the tools used are not abundant but scarce. The end product can not, typically, be used as raw material for a new development cycle, but may have to be discarded. Consequently, describing the type of OSH present in SN as commons–based (Troxler, 2010) or commons–oriented (Bauwens, 2009) is problematic, as only the digitalized designs are commons, while the raw materials, tools and end products are not.

We believe this is one of the first empirical studies of OSH communities, so all feedback & comments are very welcome.

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