I’m guessing this has been noted before, but it’s interesting to read this from Robin Wall Kimmerer about gift economies while also thinking about open source software:

From the viewpoint of a private property economy, the “gift” is deemed to be “free” because we obtain it free of charge, at no cost. But in the gift economy, gifts are not free. The essence of the gift is that it creates a set of relationships. The currency of a gift economy is, at its root, reciprocity. In Western thinking, private land is understood to be a “bundle of rights”, whereas in a gift economy property has a “bundle of responsibilities” attached. (Kimmerer, 2013, p. 28)

It really speaks to what is missing in the Free as in Beer / Free as in Freedom dualism when it comes to thinking about the sustainability of open source software. Open Source software is actually not free, but not because it requires your time, but because it requires you to enter into a set of sociotechnical relations with other people, and a new set of responsibilities. When open source software projects account for these relations and responsibilities, and practice them, they become more sustainable.


Kimmerer, R. W. (2013). Braiding sweetgrass: indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and the teachings of plants (First paperback edition). Minneapolis, Minn: Milkweed Editions.