The interest and use of open source software and methodology has gained an increasing amount of commercial attention, and we are currently witnessing that established proprietary software firms are taking a step further by opening their own software projects in an attempt to create firm-sponsored open source communities. Siobhan O’Mahony’s research finds that these firms have to handle a tension between openness and control in their product development, but little research has been done to detail how this balance is achieved. I have studied the American software company Novell and the openSUSE project, largely guided by an inductive, qualitative approach supplemented by some quantitative methods. In the study I draw upon Niklas Luhmann's theory of autopoietic social systems to create a distinction between the sponsor firm and the sponsored community, and I investigate the mechanisms that hold the two systems together despite their differences in interests. I argue that there are several elements that ensure a tight coupling between the two systems, including the boundary objects situated between them, the shared communication channels and the efforts of the marginal people whom have roles in both systems. A primary contribution to the theory of boundary objects is a distinction between what I describe as supportive-objects and target-objects. I argue that the latter holds a strong motivating power that should be appended to our understanding of individuals’ and collectives’ motivation to participate in open source software projects. I explore several possible future scenarios for the evolution of firm-sponsored communities, and find that Novell is pursuing a strategy for managing openness in such a community.
Keywords: FLOSS, managing communities, open innovation, boundary objects, marginal people, autopoietic social systems, Luhmann