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Bureau of Labor Statistics > Office of Survey Methods and Research > Publications > Browse Research Papers

Network of Tinkerers: A Model of Open‐Source Technology Innovation

Peter B. Meyer


Airplanes were invented by hobbyists and experimenters, and some personal computers were as well. Similarly, many open-source software developers are interested in the software they make, and not focused on profit. Based on these cases, this paper has a model of agents called tinkerers who want to improve a technology for their own reasons, by their own criteria, and who see no way to profit from it. Under these conditions, they would rather share their technology than work alone. The members of the agreement form an information network. The network's members optimally specialize based on their opportunities in particular aspects of the technology or in expanding or managing the network. Endogenously there are incentives to standardize on designs and descriptions of the technology. A tinkerer in the network who sees an opportunity to produce a profitable product may exit the network to create a startup firm and conduct focused research and development. Thus a new industry can arise.