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Mon, 17 May 2004
Code, community and money
Marc is starting to get the idea that code isn't the only thing that matters in open source.

Lots of people think that open source is about the licenses and the source code. I don't think that's entirely accurate. I think that a very important thing about open source is the ability of a large community of people to work on a software system in a collaborative fashion. The licenses and the availability of source code facilitate that.

Just how valuable is the code anyway? In the past, I've worked on two large software projects: Taligent and Newton, each of which produced large and highly innovative code bases. What is the value of those code bases today? Well, Apple (and IBM and HP for Taligent) has the tapes. They have all the code. But they probably can't do anything really meaningful with that source code because the people that wrote that code, that understand how it works, and why it was designed the way it was, are gone. This is why a healthy developer community is important. The community knows the code: how to make it, fix it, and enhance it.

What does this have to do with money? Today, people pay money for software, and usually that supports the developer community for that piece of software. That money also supports other things like advertising, executive salaries, and venture capital returns. As software users, we need to find ways (note the plural) to financially sustain communities of people who are producing software that we find useful, because that's how you make sure that there's a version N+1, fixes for critical bugs, documentation, and all the other things that people expect from software products.

We also need to feel sure that the money we paid is used for that purpose, and not some other. There's a common complaint with donations to charities, which is that too much of the money gets eaten up by administrative or other costs, which means that much less of the donated money actually gets used for the purpose for which it was intended. There's a similar problem with sustaining development communities. When you say that the software product is the thing worth paying for, it becomes easier to insert siphons into the pipeline to the development community, because you can justify all kinds of things as being necessary for producing the product.

[00:53] | [computers/open_source] | # | TB | F | G | 6 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post

I wrote an email which rendered such (collective) ideas clearly. It was a response to a group trying to donate some code to the Apache Software Foundation.

I would be very interested in exploring those "ways" to sustain communities. I think it is a key issue for our industry currently.
Posted by Santiago Gala at Mon May 17 14:11:40 2004

We had an idea that we call "Hive Allocation." It's a way for a group of people to us LiquidDemocracy to determine how to allocate money themselves.

What you would have is something like a "software coop," where when you pay the money for some software, and receive the software, the story isn't over. Rather, you then participate in the internal allocation of the money.

If you don't want to participate in the allocation, you just delegate all your economic power to some other trusted party. Maybe a friend, a project lead, or whomever.

But at any point, while you're money's still in a "feed," you can redirect the flow of the money. So if someone spends the money in a way you don't like, you can just redirect it.
Posted by Lion Kimbro at Mon May 24 19:00:28 2004

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