Subject: Re: A software marketplace
From: "Benjamin J. Tilly " <ben_tilly@operamail.com>
Date: Thu, 09 Jan 2003 20:07:32 +0500

Russell Nelson <nelson@crynwr.com> wrote:
> Click on this URL to check the validity of nelson@crynwr.com:
> http://q249.crynwr.com/nelson/1042091611.14617.c8f88e564e0caab354ded762a245fcf0
> 
> Y'all might know that I'm the President of the Public Software Fund.
> Our purpose in life is to recognize (with a tax deduction) the
> public-spirited nature of people who pay for the development of public
> software.  It may be that all of our donors can afford to fund a whole
> project.  Or maybe not?  Once we made that decision, we needed a
> marketplace.

The idea of a tax-free donation system is one that I
like.  Among other benefits that you could mention is
that many people get matching grants from their
employers for it.

> I'm going to use a variant of the Street Performer's Protocol[1] to
> gather together funding to pay for projects.  The software is
> currently in beta test.  Perhaps FSB'ers would like to help me test
> it?  http://pubsoft.org/index.cgi gets you to the (new) home page.
> Thanks in advance.

Unfortunately I have trouble believing that the Street
Performer's Protocol is appropriate as a general model
for free software.  The problems that I see are manifold:

 o The definition of a "done project" is hard to nail
   down.  It essentially comes down to presenting a
   complete spec of the project to be done - and we all
   know how hard getting specs right is.  Consider
   carefully the case where a donor specifies that a
   given system be "usable", and the resulting system
   is useful for thousands - but is not usable for the
   donor.  (For a random example, scripts to make
   configuring firewalls easy may well be usable at
   home and for small businesses, but won't support
   network configurations that a corporation has.)
 o A well-defined project may not, upon implementation,
   be the right project.  Often while implementing
   something you think through details and realize that
   there is a better way to organize something.  If that
   conflicts with the spec, what then?
 o Think through the incentives for the developer very,
   very carefully.  The incentive is to get something
   done that meets the spec.  There is no incentive to
   take into account extraneous factors like code
   quality, good design, and security.  By neglect,
   there will be a tendancy to shortchange them.  Thus
   you may get projects delivered that afterwards will
   tend to stagnate.
 o Unfortunate social dynamics may develop as people
   fight over who deserves rewards, and as people who
   are looking for a reward come into conflict with
   people who are doing things for personal reasons.

That said, I believe that it has a place.  And there is
one possible advantage in an organization like yours that
might be worked into a pitch to make to get companies to
fund free software.

That advantage is that you provide a way to fund needed
software while avoiding tax burdens.  So if I need
software that I cannot readily produce myself, I can
either go out and hire someone to make it for me in
which case what I pay has to cover that person's taxes,
or I can use your organization as a conduit, avoid taxes,
and possibly get some good publicity for my charitable
donation.  Of course I lose some control over the
process and the result, but if that is acceptable...

(IANAL, check the above with someone who is before
sticking your neck on the line by suggesting it.)

Cheers,
Ben
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