Episode 6

Mathieu O’Neil and Stefano Zacchiroli: The coproduction of open source software by volunteers and big tech firms


November 22nd, 2021

35 mins 59 secs

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Special Guests

About this Episode


Mathieu O’Neil
Stefano Zacchiroli

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to the Digital Infrastructure Fund podcast! This is the podcast where we focus on grantees of the Digital Infrastructure Fund that has been funded by multiple funders in order to explore what Digital Infrastructure is. Today, we are extremely privileged to have two guests, Mathieu O’Neil and Stefano Zacchiroli. Mathieu is an Associate Professor of Communication at the News & Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra and Founder of the Journal of Peer Production. Stefano is a Professor at Télécom Paris, part of the Polytechnic Institute of Paris, and co-founder and CTO of Software Heritage. Mathieu and Stefano go in depth about the grant they received which was called, “The coproduction of open source software by volunteers and big tech firms.” Find out how they decided that Debian was going to be a good database to look at, what they found in the report, raising awareness about free-riding, and their ideas on how digital infrastructure could be improved and looked at in future research. Also, we find out what digital infrastructure means to Mathieu and Stefano. Go ahead and download this episode to learn more!

[00:01:10] Mathieu tells us more about the grant they received, what it was for, and how he started working together with Stefano.

[00:04:52] When Mathieu was looking at how open source software was co-produced before this grant, find out how he decided that Debian was going to be a good research database to look at.

[00:09:00] Stefano Founded Software Heritage, he tells us more about it, and how it’s different from GitHub.

[00:09:45] We learn what Mathieu and Stefano found in the report.

[00:16:38] Find out some recommendations that Mathieu and Stefano share from the report that are worth making here and how we can change the environment to make sure that open source is better for everyone.

[00:25:14] Stefano and Mathieu share their ideas for how digital infrastructure could be improved and looked at in future research, as well as digital infrastructure things they didn’t cover in this report that would be interesting to do that don’t involve open source.

[00:28:24] Richard mentions a blog post he read about how burnout is really a corporate issue, and Mathieu mentions how there’s a lot of discussions around gender in the digital infrastructure world.

[00:32:26] Mathieu and Stefano define what digital infrastructure means to them.

[00:33:49] Find out where you can follow Mathieu and Stefano and their work online.


[00:17:47] “We said basically, people aren’t aware that the big tech firms or the GIT firm are appropriating free software.”

[00:18:15] “The value of the digital commons is not properly recognized in society.”

[00:19:43] “Well, maybe it’s time that society and regulators and the states start recognizing the value of this digital infrastructure.”

[00:20:19] “Basically to sum it up, we need to increase the social recognition of digital infrastructure, open source, Wikipedia.”

[00:20:53] “We are hoping this kind of report can start a debate and raise awareness of various things, and one is free-riding.”

[00:21:10] “Free-riding is only sustainable up to a point, so when it’s no longer sustainable you need to have some curation.”

[00:22:06] “The role of researchers that are also participating in the sustainability of specific kind of open source software is completely left out of the debate on the sustainability of open source.”

[00:23:36] “It’s also about changing the narrative about where innovation comes from, because the narrative is innovation is always driven by startups in Silicon Valley and private enterprise, but it’s just not true.”