Matt Asay has taken the time to share some rather compelling opportunity and lead source data for Alfresco on his blog. It shows, as he mentions in the entry, that documentation does indeed matter from a dollars and cents perspective. Besides the fact that it's wonderful that Matt took the liberty to share internal data with the entire world, the post is useful as support for the connected nature of the commercial and community elements of an open source ecosystem. Not too long ago documentation [the lack thereof] was considered to be a barrier to the adoption of open source software. Previously good documentation was classified as a value-add to be provided in a similar manner to support and services, i.e. on a paying basis. Yet as, Matt pointed out, providing motivation to write good documentation isn't easy. I agree. However, documentation is but one form of contribution.
Community is defined by participation, without it the community would cease to exist as a cohesive whole. The same goes for open source communities. And for the many forms of participation that exist, there are challenges involved with encouraging them. Interestingly, encouraging healthy levels of participation is a rarely mentioned functioned of open source community governance, a topic mostly associated with preventing as opposed to stimulating certain activities. Still an open source community cannot be considered a success unless it engages members [current or potential] to a point where participation is a natural continuation of the experience. Contribution should flow from those at the nexus of the community as well as those on the peripheral.
Are incentives the answer? At some level, they can serve as an impetus to consider the prospect of active participation and/or contribution. However, open source communities aren't bounty hunter circles and give-backs should be an extension of interaction which is beneficial in more ways than just financially. The approach I favor is one that takes care to ensure opportunities to participate are clearly advertised as opposed to implied, leaving the onus on the community to step forward. In much the same way that a good career website attracts job seekers even though it only hosts job offers which may be posted elsewhere, the open source community itself should be part of the motivation for participating. If documentation needs to be written, qualified individuals should consider the task with one eye and the contribution to the larger community picture with the other.