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Paying the piper

A project for discussing ways to fund open source development.

The problem

At this point in time, we don't need to convince anyone that the Open Source development process yields exceptional quality software. It also yields better results for users - better security, less vendor lock in, and so on.

However, what the FOSS community hasn't tackled well is the issue of paying for the development of FOSS. To date, most open source code is either:

  1. Developed as an in-house project by a company, and open sourced for strategic advantage (commodifying a complement)
  2. Developed entirely by volunteers.

In some cases, a combination of the two is used.

When volunteered in small quantities, there's nothing wrong with volunteers contributing to an open source project. However, leading an open source project - especially a large one - can become an all-consuming activity, absorbing all a volunteer's free time, and then some.

As a result, burnout is a regular feature in FOSS communities. This isn't a healthy from a personal perspective; and as an industry, it's frightening how much of the infrastructure on which we rely on on a daily basis is maintained by complete volunteers.

It's especially concerning given the amount of money that is available in the software development community.

The usual answers to this problem are:

  1. Start a consulting company. This is a nice idea, but it rarely works in practice. As soon as you are a consultant, the economic realities of running a company mean you focus on making money - and the things that people are willing to pay consultants for are rarely directly aligned with the long term maintenance tasks of a project.
  2. Give away the razor, sell razor blades. This works fine as long as your project has some add on that can be sold. However, not all projects can do this.
  3. Find a patron company. Get employed by a company that is willing to take on the economic "burden" of hiring a developer that doesn't contribute directly to their own bottom line. There's also the equity issue - why should one company pick up the tab for an entire developer, when their neighbour/competitor who uses the same software doesn't contribute at all?

These three approaches also lend themselves to maintaining existing projects, not starting new projects. The FOSS equivalent of "Venture capital" doesn't exist.

New models for funding FOSS development are clearly needed. The purpose of this project is to collect and discuss ideas for new funding models, in the hope that as a community of software developers, we can solve this problem, and see less of our friends and colleagues burn out in front of us.

What this project isn't

There are lots of ideas out there already about open source development on the small scale. 20% time, The Two Day Manifesto (archive), and related ideas area all about employees finding small pieces of time inside their existing employment engagements to contribute to Open Source. These are all welcome contributions, but it's not the problem we're trying to solve here.

In addition to lots of small contributions, there is a need for dedicated, full time attention. The larger the project, the bigger this need becomes. A large project (something like a web framework, or a programming language, or a widget toolkit) requires the dedicated attention of one person - or preferably more - to provide high level design guidance, to design and develop the huge features, and just keep the wheels turning for all the smaller contributions. Funding these individuals - full time, dedicated project management and contribution staff - is the problem that needs to be solved.

How to contribute

Please, before contributing, read our Code Of Conduct.

Have you got an idea for a way that we could pay for FOSS development? Open a ticket, and start a discussion around the specifics of that idea.

Do you know of a video, book, blog post, or other resource that you think people should read? Submit a PR against this readme.



Creative Commons License
All content submitted to this project is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


A project for discussing ways to fund open source development.


Code of conduct





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