Open Source Rewards

This is a bit of a rambling piece around some things that have been rattling round in my brain for a while. I’ve written it out mainly to just get it out of my head.

There has been a of noise around Open Source projects and cloud companies making huge profits when running these as services. To the extent of some projects even changing the license to either prevent this, to force the cloud providers to publish all the supporting code that allows the projects to be run at scale or include new features under none Open Source licenses.

Most of the cases that have been making the news have been around projects that have an organisation that supports them e.g. Elastic search that also sell support and hosted versions of the project. While I’m sympathetic to the arguments of the projects I’m not sure the license changes work, and the cloud companies do tend to commit developers to the projects (OK, usually with an aim of getting the features they want implemented, but they do fix bugs as well). Steve O’Grady from Redmonk has a good piece about this here.

I’m less interested in the big firms fighting over this sort of thing, I’m more interested in the other end of the scale, the little “guys/gals”.

There have also been cases about single developers that have built some core components that under pin huge amounts of Open Source software. This is especially clear in the NodeJS world where hundreds of tiny npm modules come together to build thousands of more complex modules that then make up every bodies applications.

While a lot of OS developers do it for the love, or to practice their skills on things they enjoy. But when a project becomes popular the expectations start to stack up. There are literally too many stories of entitled users expecting the same levels of support/service that they would get from a large enterprise when paying for a support contract.

The problem here is when the developer at the bottom of the stack gets fed up with everybody that depends on their module raising bugs and not contributing fixes or just gets bored and walks away. We end up with what happened to the event-stream module. In this case the dev got bored and handy ownership over to somebody else (the first person who asked), that somebody later injected a bunch of code that would steal cryptocurrency private keys.

So what are the options to allow a loan developer to work on their projects and get the support they deserve.

Get employed by a somebody that depends on your code

If your project is of value to a medium/large organisation it can be in their interests to bring support for that project in house. I’ve seen this happen with projects I’ve been involved with (if only on the periphery) and it can work really well.

The thing that can possibly be tricky is balancing the needs of the community that has grown up around a project and the developers new “master” who may well have their own idea’s about what direction the project should take.

I’ve also seen work projects be open sourced and their developers continuing to drive them and get paid to do so.

Set up own business around the project

This is sort of the ultimate version of the previous one.

It can be done by selling support/services around a project, but it also can make some of the problems I mentioned earlier worse as now some will expect even more now they are paying for it.

Paypal donations or Github sponsorship/Patreon/Ko-Fi

Adding a link on the projects About page to a paypal account or a Patreon/Github sponsorship page can let people show their appreciation for a developers work.

Paypal links work well for one off payments, where as the Patreon/Github/Ko-Fi sponsorship model is a little bit more of a commitment but can be a good way to cover on going costs without needing to charge for a service directly. With a little work the developer can make use of the APIs these platforms provide bespoke content/services for users who choose to donate.

I have included a Paypal link the about page of some of my projects, I set have set the default amount to £5 with the suggestion that I will probably use it to buy myself a beer from time to time.

I have also recently signed up to the Githib sponsorship project to see how it works. Github lets you set different monthly amounts between $1 and $20000, at this time I only have 1 level set to $1.

Adverts/Affiliate links in projects

If you are building a mobile app or run a website then there is always the option of including adverts in the page/app. With this approach the user of the project doesn’t have to do anything apart from put up with some hopefully relevant adverts.

There is a balance that has to be struck with this as too many adverts or for irrelevant things can annoy users. I do occasionally post Amazon affiliate links in blog posts and I keep track of how much I’ve earned on the about page.

This is not just a valid model for open source projects, many (most) mobile games have adopted this sort of model, even if it is just as a starting tire before either allowing users to pay a fee to remove the adds or to buy in game content.

Amazon Wishlists

This is a slightly different approach is to publish a link to something like an Amazon wishlist. This allows users to buy developers a gift as a token of appreciation. The list allow the developer to get things they actually want and to select a range of items at different price points.

Back when Amazon was closer to it’s roots as a online book store (and people still read books to learn new things) it was a great way to get a book about a new subject to start a new project.

Other random thoughts

For another very interesting take on some of this please watch this video from Tom Scott for the Royal Institution about Science Communicating in the world of Youtube and social media. It has a section in middle about Parasocial Relationships which is really interesting (as it the rest of the video) in this context.

Conclusion

I don’t really have one at the moment, as I said at the start this is a bit of a stream of conciousness post.

I do think that there isn’t a one size fits all model, nor are the options I’ve listed above all of them, they were just the ones that came to mind as it typed.

If I come up with anything meaningful, I’ll do a follow up post, also if somebody want to sponsor me $20,000 a month on Github to come up with something, drop me a line ;-).

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