Funding Open Source Projects

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That was the topic under discussion in the first ALT.Net talks today. There weren't that many people at the talk, but it was very focused and useful.

In general, there aren't that many ways of funding OSS projects. Note that I am talking here from the perspective of the developers who does the actual work, and how they get compensated for their time and effort. This exclude reasons such as scratching an itch, or as a hobby.

  • The OSS work is useful for the day-to-day work of the developer. This is by far the more common model in the .Net world. Most OSS developers tend to do so because supporting the project supports whatever they actually trying to do.
  • Reputation building - being part of OSS project usually means that you get a good reputation as a result. This can be useful in getting a job, as an example.
  • Contracting / training / support. This seems to be a very common model in the Java world. There are only a few projects in .Net that are working in this approach.
  • Donations - nice in theory, doesn't work in practice.
  • Grants - someone who needs a feature pays for it being included. I had several leads in the past, but nothing that ever got to actual money exchanging hands.
  • Work for hire - Some entity that hire a developer to work on an OSS project. SvnBridge is a good example of that. The difference between this and the previous entry is that this is not necessarily something that the dev was initially involved at.

The session was focused on two subjects, how we can increase awareness, and how we can fund OSS projects. I think that the ALT.Net community is doing a lot best practices, approaches and techniques and the tools that can be used to support those. We recently had several articles in mainstream media about from members in the ALT.Net community, as a simple example. We can do more, like reaching out to the user groups, talking more about it, doing entry level tutorials, etc. But that is more related to adoption of OSS tools, not to funding them, which was the major topic for the session.

When we are talking about funding OSS projects, we have to make a distinction in what we are talking about. We can fund the OSS project itself, and we can fund OSS developers. I feel that a large part of the session was spent making this distinction.

The major difference is in what you are trying to achieve. I use OSS projects to help me do my work, I don't need them as a source of income. They are a tool. Getting paid to work on them is fun and would be lovely, but tat is not actually something that I spend a lot of time thinking about. A lot of the suggestions that we had at the talk all involved OSS developers making considerable investment in time, money & risk for the goal of furthering OSS development.

Sorry, it doesn't work that way. At least not for me. I am getting paid to write code. Incidentally, at this point in time I am actually getting paid to write OSS code, which I consider as a really nice perk, but not something that is in any way required.

When we are talking about funding OSS projects, I am actually thinking on the other side. Funding the project itself. however, is something that I would like to focus on. The best way I know of actually getting things done is to actually pay for it to be done. Working for free works if and only if the task is fun. If it isn't, it isn't going to happen. If you want something from an OSS project, put your money where your demands are.

You want more documentation for doing X, pay for it. You want feature Y, likewise. And by paying for it, I mean anything from offering money to submitting a patch to adding to the documentation.

It is a very simple concept. And the best one I can think of.