Title: How artefacts rule web-based communities: practices of free software development

Authors: Stefano De Paoli, Vincenzo D'Andrea

Addresses: Department of Sociology and Social Research, University of Trento, Piazza Venezia 41, 38100, Trento, Italy. ' Department of Information and Communication Technology, University of Trento, Via Sommarive 14, 38050 Povo (TN), Italy

Abstract: This paper seeks to understand how complex tasks are accomplished by large web-based communities. In order to do so, we consider that technologies may embody organisational rules, hence becoming the core of coordination efforts in such communities. Our analysis is based on the concepts of translation and inscription taken from the Actor-Network Theory, while the data have been gathered using an ethnographic approach. We base our observation on the case of a Geographic Information System (GIS): the Geographic Resources Analysis Support System (GRASS) is a system developed by a small group of developers but sustained by a very large users| base located worldwide. In particular, we focus on small explanatory examples of everyday development activities of the GRASS community in relation to the internationalisation process. We focus on artefacts, such as the Concurrent Versioning System and the GRASS source code, that greatly affect the everyday activities of the community. The main result of our research is the illustration that complex tasks are accomplished by large web-based communities, thanks to many small contributions shaped and organised by the rules embodied in artefacts.

Keywords: bazaar development style; programming practices; translation process; coordination; artefacts; web based communities; free software; software development; actor-network theory; ethnography; geographical information system; GIS; online communities; virtual communities.

DOI: 10.1504/IJWBC.2008.017673

International Journal of Web Based Communities, 2008 Vol.4 No.2, pp.199 - 219

Available online: 26 Mar 2008 *

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