Most of the time, volunteering occurs in an institutional way for a specific cause. People volunteer in a lot of different ways – for example, along class boundaries there’s an interesting difference: People of lower social classes tend to donate time, effort, and money to religious causes, and to those who live below the poverty line. The higher classes tend to donate to and volunteer for causes that perpetuate their way of life – schools, colleges, art galleries, medical organizations. In addition to donating a larger percentage of their income on average, people of lower class tend to volunteer more of their time. That’s interesting.
People who donate their time and effort to open source software projects don’t always look at it as volunteerism. It’s less institutional, it’s not usually through a church or school, and an open source developer is unlikely to be sent an appreciation card or invited to a brunch for their efforts. Because software lives behind the computer, it’s difficult to see how much work goes into it, and because it generally spreads on the internet it’s difficult to thank an open source developer in person.
Few open source projects interact in person with their users. This is a distinction AmeriCorps calls ‘indirect service’. It’s not seen as more noble per se, but it is considered important and some programs demand a certain amount of it. It really does seem like a purer form of volunteerism to interact directly with a population than to serve by handling paperwork or answering phones or doing data entry.
It’s definitely still volunteering.