If you want to make a living in the world of open source software, Nadia Eghbal has created a guide that explores various models for funding your work. Eghbal, who has written extensively on sustainability and open source, recently authored a white paper published by the Ford Foundation called “Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure.” The whitepaper was written to help consumers and companies understand the challenges of sustaining open source software.
Eghbal published “A handy guide to financial support for open source” on GitHub so that others with experience can contribute to the reference. The repository is called “lemonade stand,” a term that references a common summertime business venture where children cut their teeth in entrepreneurship. The lemonade stand is often used as a symbol of capitalism, a new arena that many developers will need to embrace if they want to provide a sustainable future for their open source work.
Eghbal’s guide currently includes 16 different categories of funding, starting with the smallest (donations, bounties, crowdfunding) to the largest (foundations, consortiums, and venture capital). The funding categories explore pros, cons, and relevent case studies where the particular model has been explored.
“The purpose of this guide is to provide an exhaustive list of all the ways you can get paid, so that you can figure out what works best for you,” Eghbal said. It has already received additions from 12 contributors, including Daniel Bachhuber, who is currently exploring a patron support model to fund his work on WP-CLI.
With a few notable exceptions like Red Hat and Linux, open source projects suffer from a severe lack of funding, a problem which Eghbal calls “the internet’s biggest blind spot.” She notes that the problem of funding digital infrastructure is relatively new but is accelerating as more people are using open source software but ignoring the developer tools everyone relies on.
WP-CLI is a prime example in the WordPress community. Developers who use it are more inclined to send sporadic donations than become personally invested in maintaining the code base, which has led Bachhuber to test different funding models throughout 2016. There have been discussions about making it an official WordPress core project with the goal of widening the contributor base and ensuring its longterm future. However, Bachhuber said he “strongly believes WP-CLI should be an independent project.”
Eghbal’s funding guide is an important document for open source software maintainers who are struggling to fund their efforts and looking for more options beyond sticking a simple download button on the project’s website. If you’re looking for more discussion on this topic, Eghbal co-produces a podcast called Request for Commits that explores open source’s complicated relationship with money and various sustainability models.