In December 2008 I defended my PhD dissertation, advised by Kevin Crowston, at the School of Information studies at Syracuse University in upstate New York.

Alone Together: A socio-technical theory of motivation, coordination and collaboration technologies in organizing for free and open source software development.

by James Howison

This dissertation presents evidence that the production of Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS) is far more alone than together; it is far more often individual work done “in company”, than it is teamwork. Even when tasks appear too large for an individual they are more likely to be deferred until they are easier, rather than be undertaken through teamwork. This way of organizing is successful because it fits with the motivations of the participants, the nature of software development as a task, and the key technologies of FLOSS collaboration. The empirical findings are important because they ground and motivate a theory that enables a systematic approach to understanding the implications of FLOSS development as a model for adaptation and the future of work. The dissertation presents a process of discovery (participant observation), replication (a systematic study of project archives), and generalization to theory (a model of the rational choices of developers and an analysis of the flexibility of software as a task). The dissertation concludes by enumerating the conditions under which this theory of organizing is likely to be successful, such as non-revokable and rewindable work with incremental incentives. These are used as a framework to analyze efforts to adapt the FLOSS model of organizing for self-organizing, virtual teams in other domains of work.

The dissertation was awarded first runner up in the 2009 ICIS/ACM SIGMIS Dissertation Award competition and a Syracuse University Graduate School Dissertation Award.

A video of the defense presentation (with slides, ~30 mins, flash or download) is available.

A PDF of the dissertation is available, either in its original double-spaced form, or as a book-sized Lulu PDF (which could also be ordered as a book and shipped to you, if you are really keen ;)

There is also a PDF of a poster presentation of the dissertation.

There is a 10 Page executive summary that was prepared for the 2009 ICIS dissertation competition.

The dissertation has developed into a journal article length working paper, co-authored with Kevin Crowston, entitled "Collaboration through superposition: How the IT artifact as an object of collaboration affords technical interdependence without organizational interdependence" PDF here