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Open source maintainers: You need to stop doing work for free even if you don't need the money. You're making it the norm not to be paid for open source. So people who do need the money can't break into open source. If you don't need the money, turn around and donate it.
181 replies and sub-replies as of Dec 04 2017

This makes absolutely no logical sense. If you run a popular library and decide you're not going to maintain it unless someone pays you, all that'll happen is someone else will come along and provide a just as good library but be less demanding.
Okay compromise, GPL your library until someone pays you not to
GPL is pretty useful for the web
wow that is a typo and not true! and not intentionally sarcastic either. useless. GPL is useless for the web.
Nah it's only useless if you want profit-seeking companies to use your thing without paying you for it. Honestly just GPL your lib, pledge non-enforcement against hobbyists, and ransom the MIT license off to someone with money and a business that depends on being closed source
That, or, don't do anything unless someone pays you, but I figure this is a good compromise if you want open source work to still be done instead of a complete work stoppage strike
Like that's basically what this is, this is a strike we're proposing, and your argument is that there might be scabs, which is the age-old argument against strikes which you can overcome with hard organizing work
I agree with Jame's that some companies abuse open source as a way to get cheap or free labor. I don't agree with the solution, it's one that'd work for him because he's got a choke hold on these companies, but for your average joe it's just shooting yourself in the foot.
This isn't going to work if everyone just acts individually but as an organizing principle for a mass movement we got something here
ok maybe I misunderstand but I'm pretty sure the GPL doesn't apply to software run on the web server side?
GPL applies to anything. It's harder to catch someone violating it if they just run it server-side but any company that can afford a legal department can afford to be told by their legal department to pay for a GPL waiver.
Who should pay someone doing a hobby project (or more practical how)? You are right, but I can't see how it would work.
As a maintainer of really small projects I’m not sure I could handle the pressure induced by someone paying for it and therefore expecting something more or feel entitled to ask more features but I get your point
People can expect whatever they want - but that doesn't mean you're obligated to provide it. You charging people for the code you write does not in any way imply you also have to provide them support.
I don't think that matters. People paying money will still expect support.
Lol, people demand support even when they don’t pay.
Very true, I can only imagine that rises when money gets involved.
Let them expect it. They already expect OSS devs to work for free for them, creating software they can use to earn money. Might as well destroy two toxic expectations at the same time :)
That's totally fair, im not sure the humans on the supporting end can all handle that sort of pressure tho. Maybe with time.
Yes, I've seen that happen. But there are people/companies to work with out there that want to work with you and go back and forth to find solutions.
It's fine if you dislike open source. But don't pretend that creating and maintaining it is morally wrong.
I don't in any way dislike oss / hope my small contributions are proof of that. But do think it's important that we understand the privilege of being a able to do it and the impact that has on what gets built.
Perhaps the rt'd tweet is more extreme than my view, but, building sustainable / self supporting oss seems pretty important in creating good / ethical / lasting things, and allowing others to do so also.
It's important to maintain healthy communities around OSS, and that includes paid maintainers. But the majority of OSS would never happen without volunteers. Equating volunteer work with wage theft is disingenuous at very best, and tends to entrench privilege.
In particular, that attitude discourages students, learners, many others who are able to use open source to build a career. Yes, doing it free requires privilege, but taking away opportunity to bootstrap into a skillset is pulling the ladder up to prevent others from following
Lol, almost every line of code I've written over the last two years has been open source. I love open source and maintain some of the biggest open source projects out there. Know who you are talking to
Open source !== Free work I get paid a lot of money for my open source work because I demanded it of companies. Anyone who is privileged enough to do open source for free is capable of this
Maybe not capable to have the discussion you had to make those companies pay. Maybe you should share about your experience getting to the “yes”?
And your assertion is that any unpaid work you did had no bearing on your ability to demand payment for the work you do today?
He does not respond back 🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔?!?!?!
If I interpret the original tweet correctly, the point is: he can now, and you’re right, but others will be more likely to be able to earn a living this way as well — especially early — if more of us in OSS start demanding sth in return too
In my experience, it's relatively rare for OSS to be done for completely altruistic reasons. It gets created by someone scratching an itch; folks contribute patches to solve their own problems. Usually people contribute to OSS they use for their paid job, often on company time.
We need to move away from the community models that burn contributors out and overwhelm maintainers.
What's a better alternative model?
The topic of open source labor has become controversial lately. Your tweets reads like you're unaware of what is now a rather extended feeling of mistrust of big companies (ab)using OSS. If you are aware of it, sorry for the mansplain. If not, you may want to brush up on it.
I'm familiar with it. You probably use code I volunteer to help maintain. My career was made possible because of open source, and I've been paid to work on it. I'm deeply unhappy folks are trying to demonize the path many have used to build a career.
For some people it sorta is. Open source is my outlet to help projects I want to support.
I say this with love: that last line reads like elitism and I don't think you meant it that way
Do you have a proposal for how open source libraries do this?
I kinda agree? I don't think paying for open source would be the option, is it still open at that point? But people shouldn't treat maintainers like free labor. Open source maintainers need to explore freelancing and how it can include their projects.
I see no reason why a maintainer can't promote their paid services in their repo, especially if it pertains to the project. Something like crowdsourcing new features would be interesting too.
Yes, it is. It is also still free. The openness/freedom of FLOSS is not tied to how much it took to make it (someone has always paid the price), but on how it is treated once it is made (like a public good)
I don’t think @thejameskyle is saying for individuals to pay 100%. Companies will pay you to work on OSS, especially if there is a direct benefit to themselves.
But just for extra clarification, I agree that individuals should instinctively pay/donate to OSS. Work is work. Doesn't matter if it's OSS. Wonder how people would react if OSS suddenly stopped. Would they pay then?
Instead of saying this you should propose something like npm install should mine Bitcoin for author for 1min
project with: 600 pkgs counting linked dependencies, mean of 15 contributors per package I don't want to wait a week for an install! 😝
Or make a blockchain which gives token to author for every installed package
Plus, The idea that you assume everyone in the world earns lots of USD$$$ is wrong, there is small companies which is struggling to survive.
I’m in a similar boat, whereby I’m being paid to work on open source full time. I guess for “personal” projects that Mozilla allows me to work on I should state in the README that they are paying me? Not sure how to proceed.
Maybe companies like GitHub could introduce a monetized way for companies (and individuals) to purchase upvotes on the features / bug fixes / chores they would like to see be prioritized. As a way to provide retribution to maintainers?
I often try to encourage people to work on open source projects if they are trying to get their first job. It works really well if done right. I would imagine you are more thinking of experienced devs though right?
I agree, but how does one get paid to join and contribute to open-source projects, anyway? gotta know the right people, or is there some website I've been oblivious to?
How much are you paying for the open source dependencies that you rely on?
I've personally paid thousands of dollars and pushed for companies to pay even more. The place I'm contracting at is investing millions of dollars in open source and I'm pushing for them to do more
People are finally recognizing the parasitic effects of non-free market systems.
Have you seen ? Organizations / anyone can bounty and OSS project with crypto with no 3rd party cut
Status Open Bounty
Status Open Bounty
Ehhh... open source just started off as people creating software they wanted/needed. If others liked it then they could use it. There shouldn't be any expectation or feeling of entitlement to being paid for volunteer work, or making neat tools you like. $ changes the equation.
I think we're at a point where perhaps there would be a benefit to having a new category of open source software. Free to personal users. Cost for commercial use. It needs to be its own distinct category, though. That way the diff. expectations from “true” OSS are not applied.
Agree. Need a seamless way for projects to transition from free / hobby over to "now this is a serious thing that costs money, starting with the next version." And need a centralized entity like GitHub to manage payments, disbursement, etc.
New license. New terminology. With it comes the expectation that the project is developed AS A PRODUCT and will be supported. If it's ever abandoned then it reverts to a normal OSS license.
I like this in theory but I also have no idea who I would get to pay me to maintain OSS projects.
I think you are conflating Open Source and Open Innovation, @thejameskyle. While both are meant to create value, "open innovation incorporates the business model as the source for both value creation and value capture" More by @HenryChesbrough
Open source maintainers: You need to stop doing work for free even if you don't need the money. You're making it the norm not to be paid for open source. So people who do need the money can't break into open source. If you don't need the money, turn around and donate it.
I love all these privileged white dudes quote complaining about this tweet while totally missing what I was saying. I could've clarified, but I'm not going to with all these personal attacks
You shouldn't need to. If people can't catch the nuance, that's their problem.
Sounds like you need the GIFt my mom sent me when I was having a hard hater day... Moms, amirite? ❤️
I liked your original tweet, but no need to get racist or sexist. Sincerely, privileged white dude.
Racism/sexism is prejudice + power. White men have the power in our society, I can be prejudice against them, even discriminatory, but not racist/sexist
Sorry, I can’t follow this logic. But your original tweet was interesting. Let’s focus on that.
He wasn't being racist. White people get so easily offended about this stuff - It's about the system, not about you personally. Some groups endure systematic oppression, white men don't
To the extent that we (white men) are satisfied going along with the system, perhaps what you say has some truth.
People like Alex find themselves angry with rhetoric exposing examples of white supremacy because when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression
I am a Jew born and raised in the former Soviet Union with a Filipina wife and two children. You can call me many things, but white supremacist I am sure not.
"Like Alex" not "literally Alex". Just talking about the kind of people who commonly outrage over criticism of white privilege
Personally, I felt that there was no need too bring up race or gender of people in a discussion about making open source software sustainable. That’s all.
I've seen a lot of devs have the "I don't need the money" response in response to monetizing open source. This typically comes from rich white males who aren't thinking of the less fortunate who actually would need the money to survive
I also see a lot of responses supporting the original message, from a diverse group of people including white males. Perhaps we all see what we want to see.
Yes, white men have a much more solid grasp on power. Pointing it out is not discriminatory nor prejudiced. Being prejudiced and (arbitrarily) discriminatory is wrong, against anyone. You were not being that.
Where does this talking point even come from? It's like trying to redefine murder to mean "killing someone who is less privileged than you." It just moves the goalposts
context? Can't see any personal attacks in the original tweet
I’m missing something in the shortness of the tweet. Is there a longer piece of writing where you explain this? Or DM me.
I need to write something longer about it... there's so much context needed to explain it
Agreed. Happy to discuss off twitter as you write. I’m not sure if I’m agreeing or not yet. As you say, more context needed.
I don't mind doing it if I need it for my own projects that I plan to sell because then I'm just investing time-money. Otherwise I agree with you.
I need money as well, am not rich compared to 90% of you but I still maintain @AmberSmalltalk , because who will? No one pays for it, cannot imagine how.
If you can't get paid, you of course are at liberty to keep working on open source anyway. James's point, which I agree with, is that open source has been commercialized by capital to exploit labor. There's no doubt about it.
Software has 0 marginal cost. There does not exist a nonzero equilibrium price for any software. There are only disequilibrium prices set by firms with market power, not individual devs. So if you want to get paid for writing software, work for a firm with market power.
Lots of firms such as this employ devs to work on open source software, and these are pretty much the only devs who get paid to work on OSS.
Ahem, founder of here. We paid developers and hired from volunteer community through various eras: Netscape (running out of money), AOL (subsidized), Firefox era (Google search). See my timeline earlier for folly of economics as pseudo-physics. Pay labor.
Internet for people, not profit
Did you know? Mozilla — the maker of Firefox — fights to keep the Internet a global public resource, open and accessible to all.
Yes, but it was firms with market power that were paying those devs. The actual software they wrote was free, right? So again, if you are dev and want OSS, go find a firm with market power to pay you, or start your own firm and hope to get market power while the VC pays you.
Software is free to duplicate ("zero marginal cost", ill-defined without more context) but not to produce, maintain, or update. People charge for those things, both as individuals and as employees of firms. You also ignore how ventures without market power get funding and pay.
Curious, what is an example of a firm without market power (or belief that they will get it) paying devs to work on OSS? Actually, what is an example of such a firm being able to obtain funding? You know more than I do -- it's an honest question.
Maybe one example is SASS. Then, it doesn't matter if the software itself of open source, since it has no value apart from the network/infrastructure that delivers it. Stuff like OpenStack. But all those players have tons of market power.
You changed terms from "without market power" to "...or believe that they will get it". That's a big change. It brings in speculation, opportunity costs, time. You could say speculative disequilibrium allows pulling funds from the future (debt) or betting current funds (equity).
Consider cryptocurrency genesis block sales and Ethereum token sales. These can raise sufficient funds to run large projects for years, without debt or equity. I'm not going to write the book here in tweets, but the universe of possible ways to pay is larger than you implied.
Well, sure, you can argue that start ups don't have market power but VCs pay them in the hope they will get it. I think that's obvious -- time shifting things like this doesn't mean that market power isn't required to fund OSS.
Similarly, when a company that is undergoing bankruptcy decides to open source software they wrote earlier, that also doesn't mean that market power isn't required. They thought they would have it when they decided to pay for the development.
Your original "So if you want to get paid for writing software, work for a firm with market power" has been qualified (helpfully, I hope) a lot. Not complaining just noting the original formulation was not complete.
Correct. The world is more complex than even 280 chars. But I was trying to get to the essence of the matter, not argue in bad faith or deceive.
I understand and never doubted you. However I think we should avoid statements that seem to say "work for free or else go work for a big corporation."
It could be a small corp. And "work for" can be a contract or full time, that's not really relevant, right? Neither is getting paid in cash or bitcoin, or RSUs, or interest rate swaps. But tip jars or bounties don't work & the code needs to support some market power enterprise.
This is important b/c you have tragedy of the commons problems, e.g. SSH/SSL. And people see that this SW is valuable, and the devs *should* get paid, and assume that this means that they *will* get paid, but they don't.
I think something like public grants for OSS is a great idea, but there isn't a market funding mechanism for a lot of key OSS.
On another subthread from James's tweet, people talk about an open source cryptotoken. To make it have utility you'd need a platform that measured authentic origination and use of a module or some finer granule. Half-baked, but attractive (see my fiat social credit token point).
Yes, absolutely! Let's assume we want a govt funding channel (I do!). Then it's crucial we can measure the social value of software as well as avoid funding software that the market can fund. Measuring this is a hugely important problem to solve.
And I think it's a hard problem as well. So fun to work on, but who would pay? lol.
Quite agree, there are free riders (big ones) who should help pay for upkeep of the commons.
SSL did the hack of becoming a FIPS consultancy, but the support is still very limited. Not sure what's gonna happen to NTP or other SW out there when the current authors retire.
It could be no corporation at all. Non-profits are different kinds of corps, not with market power in the same sense as a Google or Facebook (in general; Mozilla has had big dependence on G market power). With $BAT we precreated 500M before selling 1B. Fiat social credit tokens.
My salary (albeit not an OSS project) is almost completely @Patreon funded. @vuejs is also getting quite a bit of Patreon funding. Not saying we have scale yet there, but definitely something in that model.
I've had more success getting paid while working for a small ~20 person consultancy (Thinkmill) than I did with a massive corporation (Facebook)
IME, the big guys will pay you with bad net terms, while the small guys pay you on time, but sometimes the small guys go belly up while the big guys will pay you after the 60 days or whatever. But that's in my own limited experience (1 start up, 2 big companies).
The difference for us is that consulting changes the relationship companies have with the work you do. They don't really have a choice but to pay us to develop our open source. Unless they don't want us to work for them at all
But then we can keep finding new people to work with, there's no shortage of people who need work to be done on open source projects
This I think is absolutely true. If you model is: I am doing X, who will pay me? You will have problems. If your model is: I am an expert in X, what custom work do you need? -- then you will be fine. I think this distinction is really important.
Even as an expert in x, and with companies wamting customisations, you may not be fine. Its hard work getting them to the point where thwy actually pay you. My lead times used to be 6 to 12 months from swrious contact to star of paying work.
Yeah. I was lucky, I'd been tickling potential clients for almost 5 years before i did it. Great way to learn how to manage yourself too
Unless you're one of the 10% of U.S. adults [or 25% if African-american] with a felony, in which case your expertise is worthless.
This is the fundamentally wrong part of your whole thread. There's no shortage of people who need work done on _high profile parts of the JS ecosystem_.
Not true, my team gets paid to work on projects of all sizes. I think the difference is being paid for one project vs many. It's hard to get paid for one project even if it's massively important, it's easier to get paid for lots of different stuff
How many projects do you get paid for that have 0 commercial users? How about 0 total users? How about in languages that aren't GitHub top 10? How about projects that need 5 more person-years of effort before they show fruit?
lol That's firmly in the "scratch an itch" category.
- a bunch - a bunch - I don't know many languages that aren't in the top 10 - I don't think such projects exist
Who pays for software that they don't use (genuinely curious)? Also, isn't Servo (in the news recently) an example of the last? There are certainly tons of academic projects in that category.
lots of companies seem to just license bigco software on the theory it might be useful having not done any actual analysis.
Maybe time for some solidarity or association in the OSS community, refusing to do work on an OSS project unless funding targets are met or direct payment is made?
Inexperienced devs deserve payment too, even when they're working on OSS in order to 'break in'
My point is that this makes no sense if your open source project, like a large number of projects, isn't something someone would pay for in the first place.
Perhaps a new default license could work? Bigco's are afraid of legal stuff. And OS != free. You use an OSS project for business? Either: a) pay for it or: b) contribute to any OSS at least X $ or: c) allocate Y hours of OSS coding time of your devs (fully paid)
I'm not sure what you do, but when I was in the start up, we had issues with big guys pushing us around (demanding lots of custom features) much more than small firms. Also, *huge* sales cycles. 1-2 years sometimes.
Enterprise startup amirite? ;-)
Yes, encryption appliances/security. Huge lead times. Huuuuge. Certifications, the works.
I've had the same problem building products. I don't think we should "product-ize" open source, I think there's room for a different kind of relationship
But, it's a bit meandering off the issue. The point is that individual devs don't have this power on their own, they need some corp. umbrella. That's why it's a bit foolish to expect individual devs to charge for OSS. It's not gonna happen.
Again, you ignore individual consultants, indie devs who work alone or in small consultancies. Please take care with your universals -- "corp. umbrella" forsooth!
But there is a cost to outsourcing your development to a network of (largely) part time developer who don't know what your requirements are.
No argument, there are always trade-offs. TANSTAAFL. But are you suggesting that this open source coordination cost is exactly high enough to cancel out payments to the part-time developers?
I was unaware that open source developers (esp. part time) universally received cash payments for their work.
No one said that. See o.p. above: "You need to stop doing work for free even if you don't need the money."
My q to you was regarding your statement "But there is a cost". I was not sure what you meant, and wondered if you were saying volunteers cost more so get paid less (0, mostly ;-). I agree there are coord/comm costs peculiar to open source.
Then I don't understand your question.
See (sorry, still under 140-char-limit mentally!).
My q to you was regarding your statement "But there is a cost". I was not sure what you meant, and wondered if you were saying volunteers cost more so get paid less (0, mostly ;-). I agree there are coord/comm costs peculiar to open source.
Thinking about it, I am in strongly in favour of status quo when compared to some of the possible solutions. Especially egregious is the idea of “use Patreon” / “be paid by npm install”. This creates centralized overlords owning OS and purging you if you are found “problematic”.
Any "be paid by granule of re-usable code usage" model has to be decentralized. There are always endpoints and infrastructure businesses to attack (to try to impose censorship) but minimize & encrypt e2e/ZKP. I bet a decentralized/censor-resistant system could be built. Will it?
I can only hope. You are in better position to know, with actually deploying BAT and having affairs with ZKP. :-)
But good first step could be teaming @brave and @jetbrains so IDEs could measure work both accurately and securely. I, for example, tend to push things really tidied (, so judging from diffs I am a lazy pig, while I actually put work in making it clean.
My bigger complaint is companies who consider everything they develop as IP and us open source software don’t want to contribute to it.
Huge % of OSS contributors don’t have sponsors. Where would the money come from? And how do you presume small projects become successful if contributors all expect to be paid? If you can’t afford to work for free or you’re morally opposed to it, just... don’t?
Not to mention, OSS is like a portfolio. It is a direct line to gainful employment.
I think a problem a lot of people might find with this tweet is that it potentially means if you can’t find someone to pay you to maintain open source, to stop.
It's definitely something that needs to be explained in something longer form than a tweet. But people need to stop the personal attacks if they don't understand where I'm coming from
I agree with this and the sentiment of your original tweet. I hope you don’t see my replies as a part of said personal attacks.
It's mostly not people in the thread that are the problem. It's the other threads that it has spawned which are now filling up my mentions
Someone needs an app then. Because, as an employee of a large OSS-friendly corporation, I literally cannot accept money for my OSS work. So there needs to be a way for users to donate money directly.
I'd rather put something of value into the world for free so others can pick it up and make cool shit with it. I'm not sure how you'd get paid for open source without restricting who can use it (especially those who can't afford it)
It can be free for hobbyists, and cost money for for-profit entities.
Agreed. the world would be better if this was the norm. This is more "you need to start pressuring for-profit companies to pay for what they use to change the global culture". I'll never stop working for free, but I'll throw money at smaller devs who need it.
also— great reminder to resume pressure on my workplace to start kicking in to opencollective projects we rely on to be successful 🌟
I'll do whatever I want with my own time, but thanks
I feel like it's just not your place to tell people what they should or shouldn't do for money
It's almost as if what other people do with their time is any of your business.
So what if I'm contributing because I'm applying for a job. Or I'm temporarily unemployed and want to look busy?
That’s all fine. Please carefully reread the root tweet.
I'm a core developer for an Open Source Game. There's very little money in it, so if no-one was willing to develop for free there would be no-one developing it
me and matt were talking about this the other day, we do it to ourselves haha, totally not a big deal if you already work for a co, but as soon as it becomes your "job" then nopeee
Thanks but no. OSS is my hobby at times, I'm not going to let you dictate what I can do with my free time.
“Can’t break into open source”? Seriously? OS is part of a developers CV. It’s used in hiring decisions, as internships, etc. Given two candidates of equal strength, I’ll likely always choose the one with OS experience.
As an artist, I hear this same argument in the art and photography worlds. Reality is, no one owes you a career doing something that someone else wants to do just for fun. If you want to be paid, work on problems other people won’t work on for free.
A lot of open source developers have jobs because of the ecosystem though. It's a bona fide for a consultancy. I reckon it's more complicated than the binary suggested here.
What if you both donate and do open source for free?
My company pays me and allows (and encourages) open source contributions during work. Does that count?
that line of code I wrote for the Linux kernel is on a billion smart phones though ;-)
Who's going to pay for the relatively small projects that most of us write? (nobody writes a Kubernetes in their spare time) How do we get paid? There have been a ton of discussions on this lately. It's a hard problem. If you have a solution, that's awesome, please tell us.
this is easy to say if you are a dev working on web dev or cloud / automation stuff. if youve a different discipline (eg ux) or niche community, a hell of a lot harder. open source contrib != spec work