PLEASE throw money at open source projects

Blimey, loooooooong time no post! So much has happened that I won’t even bother to write it down for it will take me few millennia times.
Now, lemme jump straight to the point – open source is utter rubbish when it comes to monetising.
Imagine for a second that I am leading a lecture in some open source conference and I ask this – “How many of you have some open source projects you work on?”. I would imagine all or at least huge percentage of the attendees would raise their hand. Now imagine how many would raise their hand to the question – “And how many make a living from open source projects?”. Yeah, most likely no one or very few.
And that folks is a big issue.
No, I mean not just big, or big big, I mean freaking HUGE issue.
You see, creating products requires time and effort and the better this products are, the more time and effort they require to be made.
This spring I co created a visual brand called Numix with two more open source mates. For the little time Numix has been there it has become insanely popular and we’ve been improving it on daily basis. I kid you not, the thing is very popular and very large, hence it is also quite hard to maintain and improve.
We are selling some aspects of it (mind you, the majority of it is free) and we also have a donation for at our webby (feel free to buy some of our artwork or throw some quids at us ;P) and we’ve made approximately around 900 USD for about 6 months. Compared to the crazy amount we put into it (and we will continue to put) this sum is next to nothing.
How much a designer (because this is artwork we’re talking about here, not really hardcore app development) that works for some company? Well, even in my crazy Balkan country he will make more than those 900 bucks on monthly basis. Now imagine if we’re talking about designer at bigger company in a normal country in normal end of the world? 2000 dollars monthly? 5000? More?
So, to sum it up, we are doing crazy amount of labour and we get next to nothing in return from a financial standpoint compared to the labour.
Wanna know why this is an issue?
Well, because money are necessary evil and the world is spinning around them.
Which is why mostly ALL open source work is volunteered and it’s done by folks in their free time. It is bloody hard/next to impossible to make a living out of open source (unless you get hired by a big company to do so), so most open source people have real live jobs and work on their open source projects when they have the time and energy. This results in slower and not so good development and/or designing and I challenge you to find ANY open source person that will say – “hey, I want worse quality software”.
Now, imagine for just a second how much better it would have been if the talented open source people were actually paid proper amount of money for their project so they can continue to work on them full time and as a result make them so much better. Wouldn’t that be awesome? Well, hell, of course it will be ooysum.
Which is why I think the “if it’s open source and I can avoid paying for it I will” way of thinking must die.
So, please, all you people that support open source software, if you want open source software to get better throw money at whatever projects you think its worth it and encourage others to do the same, because otherwise we (creators and drivers of the projects) are forced to have real life jobs and work on open source in our free time with the little remaining energy we have, which results in worse products and much much much slower development.
Let me get back to Numix for a while. I believe I speak on behalf on the entire by saying that we would love Numix to be not just our pet project on which we work in our free time, but our job, because it is our baby and we want to make it better and bigger. For example our newest icon theme – Numix-Circle has over 190 applications icons (and if you count the other icons from our basic numix-icon-theme, which are thousands the number gets scary) takes us a lot of time and effort and wanna know how much we have made from it? 12 dollars. Well, if you think that’s OK, then I don’t want to know how much work we should do to make Numix our real life job. We’ll probably need to clone ourselves a few hundred times to get it done. ;>
The current revenue is enough for us to buy three of four fancy devices for almost an year, but that doesn’t pay our bills, buy us food or … you get the point. So, if you want the project to be developed faster and better throw money you can spare at us. Because without money we are forced to keep it as just a pet project and needless to day that has a quite the negative impact on the products quality.

26 thoughts on “PLEASE throw money at open source projects

  1. throw money at whatever projects you think its worth it and encourage others to do the same, because otherwise we (creators and drivers of the projects) are forced to have real life jobs and work on open source in our free time

    I hate to tell you, but if a project doesn’t have a plan for dealing with donation, you are getting nowhere with your donations.

  2. Do you started this project to make money or do you use the money for the project?
    I think it should be more professional than. When there are bugs you not can say: hmmm 1 day we will fix it. You are selling something and you create an expectation then. So far i like the project. I want to buy the theme but its not possible.

    • You see, if we were actually paid to work on Numix we would have time to work on time, hence bugs would have been squashed much faster.
      Regarding your issue of not being able to throw $$$ at us, how do you normally do electronic banking?

    • Will all due respect that is utter rubbish comment.
      We (open source devs/designers) just want to create open source software.
      However we are also human (gee, imagine that!) and we need money to live. If community doesn’t pay us we are forced to find real life jobs and those jobs eat a lot of time, time that we otherwise spend on our projects. So, we are left with a little energy and time to work on our projects, which results in worse quality products and worse cadence.
      The community like free (as in free beer) software waaaaayyyyyy too much, but they must realise that it comes as a price – what is free is worse quality and it is not released often. 

  3. We’ve been talking and thinking about the economics of free and open source projects for the past few years. I believe we’re starting to see a shift away from the old idea that an open source project MUST be made up for volunteers. It’s still hard going though because the old ideas are so pervasive.

    One of the keenest understandings of what makes FOSS economics so hard is that in the end, a project leader must be able to gather together enough investors/funders interested in the project (PR/Advertisting) as well as enough easy to follow routes to push that money into the project so work can be paid for BEFORE hand. Or at least so the resources are in effective escrow before hand.

    The problem with post-paying, is that it works for COTS, it FAILS for FOSS. We have to be paid for the work that we do and not the sale of the product or the item off a shelf. How we package up our work so people can buy it and feel good about buying our hours is an ongoing quest. If you guys come up with any cool ideas or want to talk more about funding. I’d love to hear from you.

  4. The libre software philosophy is great and noble but staunch adherence to its principles leads great software projects to languish into obsolescence. I believe too much of anything is bad no matter how noble or moral it is.

    Now the Numix project has a great fan-following but IMHO it is not essential to anyone’s day-to-day use of a computer. That does not mean that your work is not desirable or you should not think of making money with it. What this means is that your users will not want to pay for it till *they learn to appreciate the value of your work* OR *they are compelled to pay for it*.

    There you go I said it. Your project, IMHO needs to make it compelling for your users to pay for it. And I am going to go out on a limb here and ask you to stop giving away your work for free and simply make it proprietary. You don’t become a bad person if you sell proprietary product/service but you become a bad person if you cheat or lie whether your work is open-source or not.

    I love your work and I wish you best.

    • But we don’t want to make it proprietary, we want to keep it as open source as possible (if possible completely open source). Are you trying to tell me you would prefer it to be proprietary and paid instead of open source and paid? 😛

      • I would prefer it to be successful than perish for lack of funding. Your fixation with changing people’s psychology with respect to libre software is getting you nowhere.
        Your expectation that users should pay for Numix because it is a great *open-source* product is a mistake. Don’t kid yourself. Open-source or not, you will not be able to make money if users always have the option to get your work for free. You need a reality-check: what do you care more about, creating great artwork & design or creating open-source work. If you choose latter, then money should never be a problem for you, because your motivation for creating open-source software is too pure to be influenced by materialistic gains; you will keep on creating great sofware whether you are paid or not, just like Richard Stallman in 80s. He slept on a mattress in the MIT campus to cut costs and kept working on the GNU and GCC because he cared too much for it and he would rather not have a comfortable life than suck up to using proprietary software. You have to take a stand here and realize that you are working with a very small team, you have limited resources and figure out what your goal with Numix is. If you are adament on finding a middle-ground then you will only get bitter.
        I have been pointed at, even mocked at times for my apprehensions regarding open-source software but those who criticize others for making money off proprietary software have to get off their high-horse one time or another and suck up by either incorporating advertising in their product/service or relinquishing their work to a bigger business. Why do you think Ubuntu shows Amazon sponsored results in its Dash search?

        If you really want to make a difference with your work, don’t mistake open-source for business. Open-source is a philosophy, much like non-violence and free-speech and to compromise on that just breaks your soul.

      • Why my, forgive me for actually wanting to make open source professional and not wanting it to be a partizan movement anymore. I am so vicious with my plans of wanting a to make open source better …
        (obviously sarcastic comment, I can’t be bothered arguing with you any longer)

      • I am sorry if you felt offended. I only want to see the Numix team succeed. There is a developer, Satya on your team that I know from Facebook and I love his work. The only reason I got to using Numix was through his involvement in the project.

        I am not asking you to stop making open-source software. I work exclusively with and on open-source software. I am asking you to reevaluate the contribution of Numix to the free-software world in comparison to Inkscape, Gimp or Blender. These projects are likely to win my donation than yours.

        Again let me say that this does not trifle your work. I love it, I use it but in the list of all open-source software I contribute or donate to Numix is close to the bottom.

        So getting sarcastic with me or crying for insufficient donations from community is not going to solve your problem. It is great that you subscribe to the libre philosophy but you are stifling your small project by not using the most straightforward way of helping it, by going the proprietary+paid route.

      • @Harsh – A proprietary route would not be easier, in fact quite the opposite. A business venture in that direction would require far more resources to start and more resources to run. A more limiting factor for /any/ project is it’s market size and channel effectiveness.

        Paying via the channel matters, weather it’s open source or not is irrelevant if your app store is asking you for money.

        What Mecho is asking for here is simply greater perspective from users and developers on the merits of economics. Personally I believe we won’t solve anything so long as delivery channels like Debian are focused on free as in beer and unintentionally scuppering their upstreams.

        This project seems pretty new; it’d be a hard push for anyone to fund it right now. But perhaps in a not too distant future.

      • @Martin – I don’t think so. The donations at this rate or even at double the rate are in no way going to cover the amount of hours the Numix team puts into it.

        He is going to have to convert to paid+proprietary model or keep building Numix as an open-source hobby. The only other way of finding a sponsor is by getting a company such as Canonical to use it by default which doesn’t seem likely because they have already hired Faenza (another graphic artist) for theming Ubuntu.

      • @Harsh – I didn’t mention donations. It’s possible to focus distribution so people have to pay for open source projects if they want it delivered. But that’s only part of the mix of possible economic systems.

        I believe Mecho is unhappy with your thinking that money is only available to proprietary programs because it is these beliefs which are self-fulfilling. People with your beliefs are more likely to spend money on proprietary programs and less likely to spend money on open source. A terrible outcome based solely in a mistaken philosophy that proprietary equates to commercial.

      • I have to point out here that you and George are grossly mistaken as to my *thinking*. You are trying to generalize George’s problem by talking about ways to focus distribution of open-source applications. I am not going there because it is not specific to a project such as Numix. But even if such a distribution channel were available, people would always choose to pay and install software on the basis of its merits.

        And I don’t think Numix has earned enough merits to compete with open-source applications for users’ money. This is the reason I advised him to go proprietary to be able to fund his little Numix shop. I don’t think it is evil to make proprietary software, it is just common business sense for small/independent producers to make money. Look at Instapaper for example. Take a look at pinboard.

        There is a ton of great software out there that is free and open-source but people who work on them don’t cringe for money like George is doing here despite the fact that they need it just as much.

        Here he is not just unhappy with me but a whole community of users that have not donated to his project. George’s idea to educate us all on the basis of economics is a great fallacy. His myopic view of open-source economics is going to hurt his project even more. While earlier I was sympathetic to his problem I have come to realize funding is not a problem. His expectations are. In his posts he is venting his frustration at users for not donating enough – 900 USD for about 6 months. I just read his other post titled “Free software is NOT free” and his comments.

        His cry for donations and comments that call us “bloody idiots” and “stubborn jerks” for not opening up our wallets to him shows how frustrated he is about not being able to monetize his project. I also get a feeling that he has not fully open-sourced his work, some of it is either closed or has restricted distribution rights, despite his claims of being an ardent supporter of open-source philosophy.

        Most of this frustration comes from measuring the project’s success in terms of money rather than measuring the number of his users.

        Only now do I realize that he is hurt and was frustrated into writing so viciously about the users in community that chose not to pay. I did not know we hurt him this much by using Numix for free. I am sorry. I am going to remove Numix from my Ubuntu box. But before I do, I will say this, “George, for all your great artwork and designs I thank you but you are greatly mistaken to the value of your contributions.”

  5. George,

    Open source moves on the basis of “enlightened self-interest”. People engage in and spend money on open source when there’s a direct benefit to themselves. Benefiting others is a fortunate side-effect.

    If you want to make a living out of open source, find a way that your own skill and interest, and someone else’s financial resource and need coincide.

    • Trust me, I have been involved in some much open source projects that I can’t even name them all. And I’ve done insane amount of high quality work and I most certainly know my skills.
      Wanna know how much I’ve made for all the time and work I’ve invested? About 400 dollars. But it is not about the money that much, whereby it is about that people must realise that we are human and we need money to live and if they pay us to work on our projects full time there would have been a much better open source software out there. Otherwise we are forced to keep our projects as just pet projects which makes the final products of worse quality and released with much slower cadence. Do you think that’s good for open source? No, it is not and that is why I am trying to fix it.

      • There are few people out there who are lucky enough to act purely on the basis of benevolence. You need to treat your open source contributions as a business opportunity. How and why would it be in other people’s best interests to contribute to this? What can I change in my approach such that giving me money is in their best interests?

        I know plenty of people who make their living out of open source work. It most definitely can be done, and is being done.

        It sounds like you know your skills, but those people who have the money, don’t. They need to know *why* they should give you some. Why should they employ you to work on your project or projects? Put yourself in their place, answer those questions, and then you’ll have a better chance at having the income you want.

  6. So you want/demand that the “community” should pony up for open source software that you/others develop in order to get higher “quality” software so that you/others can avoid “real life jobs”.

    uh no! – your choice to spend free time developing “quality” open source software is your choice and it is my choice to pay for quality open source software or not.

    I will pay generously for quality open source software but if you think I’m going to pay to support your bohemian lifestyle then you are nucking futs.

    • This exact way of thinking is what I am trying to eradicate.
      You must stop thinking of open source as volunteered labour, because that is doing nothing, but hurting the infrastructure. Look at the success of Gnome and Ubuntu. Both of those are done by people that actually get paid to work on open source and the end result is much better products.
      It isn’t about avoiding real life jobs or having bohemian lifestyle, it is about making open source software the professional way. Now I dare you do tell me that you wouldn’t like to see more professionally done open source software.
      Because I am crazy and I want to contribute to open source, I want to make my projects my real life job, so my projects will make doing great and not medicore projects. If you think it is good that people like me can’t do that, because users refuse to support us and by doing so we make worse open source products than you’re basically saying “I want open source to be stuck at mediocre partizan level, instead of becoming professional.”, which I fail to realise how can it be a good think, but sadly I don’t have a magical way of making people getting some common sense.
      Now, go on and continue thinking that making open source products are better when done by volunteers in their free time instead of being professionally done … because that make so much freaking god damn sense. No, wait it doesn’t.

      • Look brother, if you want to be able to work professionally on open-source software join a company that uses that software or contributes resources to it. If you insist on working on a personal project *and* keeping it open-source then you are on your own to prove its worth so that it may be funded by some big company like Google or Canonical.

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