Discourse is free, open-source discussion software created by Jeff Atwood in 2013. In addition to celebrating its fourth birthday, the team announced the Discourse Encouragement Fund. The fund allows the development team to pay contributors for critical work.
In the course of a year, Discourse has paid 16 different developers a total of $17,000 to work on tasks. All of their work is open source and two of the contributors joined the team as full-time employees.
Discourse shared its 7-step process for rewarding contributors and the one that sticks out to me is number four: “We choose who, what and when.”
“At first we tried to put tasks ‘up for grabs’, but this method didn’t work too well,” Erlend Sogge Heggen, Community Advocate at Discourse said. “You end up with multiple takers and you have to pick one and let others down.”
“Instead, we approach developers individually, one at a time. Since we’re an open source project we know fairly well who’s capable of what, so we’ll tap our top prospect, present the task and ‘bounty’, and get a yes or no.
“If no, we move on to the next good prospect. If we run out of good prospects for a specific task, we’ll either do it ourselves or put it on hold.”
Heggen says the program has worked well thus far and will continue indefinitely. “As much as we’d like to, we can’t put every one of our contributors on a steady payroll,” he said.
“What we can do is remind them that the work they’re doing is valuable, in every sense of the word, and that there is money to be made from specializing in Discourse.”
The program is funded by customers who purchase hosting plans, “The general idea is that paying customers help improve Discourse, both for themselves, and for the greater open source community at large,” Atwood said.
Introducing money into an open source project can be risky but so far, Discourse has found a way to make it work.