Open Source & MoneyPart I

time to read 3 min | 559 words

I run into a (private) tweet that said the following:

Is there a way to pay for a feature in an opensource project in a crowdfunded manner with potential over time payouts? I would love to pay someone to implement a feature I really want, but I won't be able to pay it all.

I think that this is a very interesting sentiment, because the usual answer for that range between no and NO. Technically, yes, there are ways to handle that. For example, Patreon or similar services. I checked a few of those and found LineageOS – 205 Patrons with 582$ monthly.

There is also Librapay, which seems to be exactly what the tweet is talking about, but…  the highest paid individual in there is paid about under a thousand dollars a month. The highest paid organization is bringing in about 1,125$ / month.

There are other places, but they present roughly the same picture. In short, there doesn’t seem to be any money in this style of operation. Let me make it clear what I mean by no money. Going to Fiverr and sorting by the cheapest rate, you can find a developer for 5 – 10$ / hour. No idea about the quality / ability to deliver, but that is the bottom line. Using those numbers (which are below minimum wage) gives you not a lot of time at all.

A monthly recurring income of 500$ – 1,250$, assuming minimum wage, will get you about a week or two of work per month. But note that this is assuming that you desire minimum wage. I’m unaware of anywhere that a developer is charging that amount, typical salaries for developers are in the upper tier. So in term of financial incentives, there isn’t anything here.

Note that the moment you take any amount of money, you lose the ability to just mute people. If you are working on open source project and someone come with a request, either it is interesting, so it might be picked up, or it isn’t. But if there is money involved (and it doesn’t have to be a significant amount), there are different expectations.

There is also a non trivial amount of hassle in getting paid. I’m not talking about actually collecting the money, I’m talking about things like taxes, making sure that all your reports align, etc. If you are a salaried employee, in many cases, this is so trivial you never need to think about it. That on its own can be a big hurdle, especially because there isn’t much money in it.

Counter point to my entire post is that there are projects that have done this. The obvious one is the Linux kernel project, but you’ll note that such projects are extremely rare. And usually have had a major amount of traction before they managed to sort out funding. In other words, it got to the point where people were already employed full time to handle such projects.

Another option is Kickstarter. This isn’t so much for recurring revenue, but getting started, of course. On Kickstarter, there seems to be mostly either physical objects or games. I managed to find Light Table which was funded in 2014 to the tune of  316,720$ by 7,317 people. Checking the repository, there seems to be non activity from the beginning of the year.

More posts in "Open Source & Money" series:

  1. (19 Nov 2020) Part II
  2. (18 Nov 2020) Part I