Ayende @ Rahien

Oren Eini aka Ayende Rahien CEO of Hibernating Rhinos LTD, which develops RavenDB, a NoSQL Open Source Document Database.

You can reach me by:

oren@ravendb.net

+972 52-548-6969

Posts: 7,087 | Comments: 49,877

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time to read 4 min | 616 words

I run into this tweet:

I wanted to respond to that, because it ties very closely to the previous post. As I already said, getting paid for open source is a problem. You either try to do that professionally (full time) or you don’t. Trying to get hobbyist amount of money from open source is not really working. And when you are doing this professionally, there is a very different manner of operating. For this post, I want to talk about the other side, the people who want to pay for certain things, but can’t.

Let’s say that Jane works for a multibillion dollar company. She is using project X for a certain use case and would like to extend its capabilities to handle and additional scenario. We’ll further say that this project has a robust team or community behind it, so there is someone to talk to.

If the feature in question isn’t trivial, it is going to require a substantial amount of work. Jane doesn’t want to just bug the maintainers for this, but how can she pay for that? The first problem that you run into is who to pay. There isn’t usually an organization behind the project. Just figuring out who to pay can be a challenge. The next question is whatever that person can even accept payments. In Israel, for example, if you aren’t an independent employee, there is a lot of bureaucracy you have to go through if you want to accept money outside of your employer.

Let’s say that the cost of the feature is set around 2,500$ – 7,500$. That amount usually means that Jane can’t just hand it over and claim it in her expenses. She needs someone from Accounts Payable to handle that, which means that it needs to go through the approval process, there should be a contract (so legal is also involved), they might be a required bidding process, etc.

The open source maintainer on the other side is going to get an 8 pages contract written is dense legalese and have to get a lawyer to go over that. So you need to cover that expense as well. There are delivery clauses in the contract, penalties for late delivery, etc. You need to consider whatever this is work for hire or not (matters for copy right law), whatever the license on the project is suitable for the end result, etc. For many people, that level of hassle for a rare occurrence of non life changing amount of money is too much.  This is especially true if they are already employed and need to do that on top of their usual work.

For Jane, who would like her employer to pay for a feature, this is too much of a hassle to go through all the steps and paperwork involved. Note that we aren’t talking about a quick email, we are probably talking weeks of having to navigate through the hierarchy, getting approval from multiple parties (and remember that there is also the maintainer on the other side as well).

In many cases, the total cost that is involved here can very quickly reach ridiculous levels. There is a reason why in many cases it is easier for such companies to simply hire the maintainers directly. It simplify a lot of work for all sides, but it does means that the project is no longer independent.

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.

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