Experiential learning and brokerage in a peer-production network
Peer production, which combines technological, organizational, and institutional advances to enable diverse individuals to socialize, communicate, coordinate, and integrate otherwise fragmented knowledge resources, is one of the most noteworthy Internet-mediated organizational innovations. Among the best known instances are Open Source Software (OSS) projects in which dispersed self-organizing teams of volunteer developers work collaboratively by means of online communication. While the inferiority of such self-organizing structures to hierarchical organization as a solution to complex problems of resource allocation, coordination, and production is often noted, peer production has proven particularly adept. To contribute to an account of their success, I focus on the structural properties of emergent collaborative problem solving networks through which the ideas and resources required to solve problems travel. My specific interest is in how the resolution of software bugs is influenced by the network positions of the bug and the developers collaborating to fix it, as well as the role of developer experience in the network. While knowledge of the problem-solving network – its structure, participants, and functioning – seems essential to realizing its potential, to date, analyses of OSS projects, and problem-solving networks more broadly, have overlooked the role of participants’ experiential learning in securing network advantages. I test my ideas on the problem-solving network induced by patterns of communication and collaboration among software developers working to “debug” the Firefox web browser within the Mozilla OSS Project.