Subject: Re: Funding Open Source Development
From: Ian Lance Taylor <ian@airs.com>
Date: 26 May 1999 00:55:14 -0400

   Date: Tue, 25 May 1999 15:31:49 -0700
   From: Norman Jacobowitz <normj@aa.net>

   While there are major differences between the above, the general theme 
   is: allow sponsors to provide funding to entice development of certain 
   Open Source projects that are not currently underway.

   In an effort to start the discussion out as vague as possible, I hope 
   to ask some general questions:

   1) What do you folks think about the concept?

Funding open source projects is on the face of it similar to any other
sort of contract programming: you have a job to get done, and you need
somebody to do it.  Contract programming is probably about as old as
the software industry (i.e., very new), and is in any case a
moderately well understood activity (or at least thought to be so).

So, the first question is, are you talking about an intermediary for
finding and hiring software contractors with an emphasis on open
source projects?  For example, www.improvenet.com is an intermediary
for home contractors, which is a fundamentally similar if much larger
field.

Other than straightforward contracting, the possibilities I see mainly
involve collecting groups of sponsors.  This could be driven from
sponsor need, in which somebody has a need and wants you to help find
others with the same need, and then find a developer.  It could also
be driven from project need, in which some project needs to be done by
some developer, and you help find sponsors.

Anything involving groups of sponsors has an obvious free rider
problem.  If I have to pledge a dollar to get something done, but it
won't get done on my time table anyhow, I might as well save my dollar
and let somebody else pledge theirs.  You're only to get my dollar if
there is some kind of delivery time promise, and that would seem to
require bringing all the dollars to the table at once, and that sounds
hard.

Of course, I might pledge my dollar as a charitable donation.  That
would be sort of like giving it to the FSF, except that I have
slightly more control over what happens with it.

I'm struggling to imagine the sorts of people who will pay for
something without knowing when the work will be done, and I'm having
trouble.  So I'm having trouble imagining how this is different from
either software contracting or a charity.

   2) Is this paradigm bad/good/amoral/asinine/silly/awesome?

It's an interesting notion, but I don't see why it will fly, except
perhaps as a charity.

   3) Providing that the business model proves successful, should these 
   methods of engendering development be encouraged?

Sure, if it's successful, why not?


Another vaguely related organization is the Internet Software
Consortium, http://www.isc.org.  It's sort of like a charity.

Ian