How Kickstarter will kill Open Source

23 Mar

Anyone who works with Linux knows how valuable and revolutionary the open source movement has been. Countless hackers around the world working – often for nothing – on all types of software.

Yesterday I saw a Kickstarter project asking for donations to add schema migrations to Django’s core. A £2,500 target to add some new features to Django. At the time of writing pledges for over £12,000 have been made. The trouble is, I think this will damage Django – and other open source projects – in the long run.

You see, I nearly donated. I like Django, I’ve worked with it for several years, and database migrations are a pain in most languages. But I nearly donated because I like Django. This would have been a way of showing it even though I’m not working with it right now. Only the problem is that the developer who set up the Kickstarter project is funding his own work on Django. Why is that a problem? Shouldn’t people get paid to work on projects? Well yes, I have nothing against that, and £2,500 for the amount of work involved seems reasonable. But when £12,000+ has been pledged, where will the surplus go? Are core developers likely to be annoyed by the fact that this project has raised so much beyond what was asked for, and will they feel entitled to some? Stretch goals go up to £7,000, but now a further £5,000 has been pledged on top of that. Is this a situation where the first developer from a project garners lots of love – and makes a good profit – for being the first to come up with the idea of requesting funding? Should the excess be contributed back to the community/core dev team?

If I were a core Django developer who worked on the project in my own time, I might be thinking around now that perhaps I should start creating a project for myself on Kickstarter. In fact, perhaps I’m reasonably owed some money for all the work I’ve put into it in the past. And this is the part that I think will hurt Django, and by extension other open source projects.

The question of what happens to the surplus is really irrelevant, and this is one specific project. The idea is interesting. If this were to happen on different software projects, I think we might find more of a hesitancy on the part of developers to implement certain large pieces of work, but perhaps more importantly, resentment between those who charge and those who don’t.

Alternatively it could be argued that creating Kickstarter projects to fund development will ultimately lead to more important work being prioritised because people can afford to take a break from their day jobs to work on those features important enough to others that people will fund the work. Is this model sustainable? What do you think? Is this the beginning of the end of working for free on open source projects? Let me know in your comments…


5 Responses to “How Kickstarter will kill Open Source”

  1. Sid 23 March, 2013 at 18:27 #

    Maybe a few open source developers will turn towards kickstarter projects, because of the incentive. But Open Source is a huge phenomenon, it represents freedom of technology. And there will always be awesome developers in huge numbers who truly believe in that, like the linux community. Kickstarter is a great, but according to me, its no matter of concern for Open Source or free software.

  2. robertmeta (@robertmeta) 23 March, 2013 at 20:26 #

    It is no different than the current legions of developers being paid to professionally work on open source projects. The developers who work for Ubuntu and Redhat get paid and interact with unpaid developers all the time, most people are fine with this arrangement.

    If anything, kickstarter requires a higher degree of proof to get donations, a proven track record and work done in public. What I think is great about it is that it encourages work on the REALLY UGLY BITS that everyone hates in open source… schema migrations, blech.

    Also, if you look at the current donations… 3000 of it is in the 1000 bracket, they are supporting a good project and getting a day + prep of consulting… which is valued at easily over 1000 for a senior developer doing short-term specialized work. An additional 750 is also “good value” support contracts.

    The rest are people that either way to support him (a 6 year core contributor) or specifically want this itch scratched.

    Win-Win-Win in my book, the right type of deal.

  3. fettemama (@fettemama) 23 March, 2013 at 21:22 #

    STOP THE PRESSES! People actually want to be compensated for their work! World is ending!

  4. neilbowers 23 March, 2013 at 23:54 #

    I think it might end up causing problems for some projects (for example by causing tension between team members where one has ended up being paid for doing what the others are doing for free). But I think it could also be a very useful way to get features done, and bugs fixed, particularly if they’re not sexy or interesting to work on.

  5. Trey Hunner 24 March, 2013 at 23:11 #

    I doubt this phenomenon will be a net negative.

    This will probably allow development to happen (by new or existing contributors) that wouldn’t have happened otherwise (stuff that’s time-intensive, difficult, or just not very fun to implement). Most likely *some* but not *all* existing developers will attempt to use this model for tasks they were going to implement anyways.

    If something needs to be done either the community will pay for the feature (instead of developers implementing it for free), the feature will be implemented for free as usual, or the feature won’t be implemented. I don’t think a failed Kickstarter goal would completely stop anyone from stepping up and doing the work that needs to get done. If it does then there isn’t enough incentive for the feature to be implemented for free which would probably have been the case pre-Kickstarter also.

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