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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…