Should open source software advertise?

0 Posted by - 7th September 2019 - Technology

Credit: Dreamstime

Given how dependent we’ve become upon open source software, one would think that we would have a bevy of options for supporting the developers who write the code, but we don’t. Oh, sure, if it’s a big project with big money involved, like Kubernetes, funding is not too hard to find.

But what about a popular JavaScript library (style guide, linter, and automatic code fixer) like Standard? Not so easy, leading one of the founders, Feross Aboukhadijeh, to experiment with an advertising model—and later end the experiment after lots (and lots) of negative feedback.

While concerns about the sustainability of open source are overblown, we should be extraordinarily concerned about enabling the financial independence of open source developers. Here are some ideas for improving the situation.

Think beyond sustainability

The first comes directly from Aboukhadijeh’s recap of his ad-supported funding experiment. As he wrote, “Sustainability is another way to say subsistence. This is why the common phrase ‘open source sustainability’ isn’t ideal.”

In other words, developers aren’t interested in starvation wages that keep them alive, barely hanging on to add one more line of code. Instead, he went on, “Folks who work on open source have a right to thrive and to be fairly compensated for our labour.”

Of course, no one has a right to a six-figure salary, but for those developers contributing in excess of that value to enterprises of all shapes and sizes, it’s really not too much to expect that they can write the code we depend upon without having to endure subsistence wages.

That’s not good for the open source developers, of course, but it’s also not good for the organisations who depend upon that code. If we want more innovation from open source developers, and we most emphatically do, we should pay for it.

The question is how?

Thinking beyond tip jars

That is, what is the right way to pay for the value open source developers provide? It’s easy to point fingers at corporations and say that they should pay, but it’s not so simple.

With so many companies deriving value from open source software, how do we determine which of those companies should pay, and how much, not to mention how?

It’s very much a tragedy of the commons, with limited to no mechanisms available to enable companies to pay their “fair share,” even if we could precisely determine just what that “fair share” is.

What about donations? As Aboukhadijeh has noted, “Lots of maintainers struggle to reach a barely liveable wage via donations.”

read more at by Matt Asay