Innovation, funding and FS

Paul Boddie paul at
Mon Sep 17 13:14:16 UTC 2018

On Monday 17. September 2018 12.42.18 Bernhard E. Reiter wrote:
> Am Samstag 15 September 2018 17:20:26 schrieb Paul Boddie:
> >
> > Then again, I am inclined to think that such platforms tend to favour
> > transactional work, often underpriced, that is viewed as fashionable
> > amongst the relentless promotion of the "gig" economy (hence the venture
> > funding for some of the companies above). Instead, I think that structures
> > to fund Free Software should enable developers to actually draw a salary,
> > not have people speculatively do work in order to compete for payouts.
> If I do understand you correctly, you believe they fund more "marketing" and
> less "development". Whereas sometimes good quiet engineering would need to
> be funded. In a bird's view I'd agree on this. The challenge - though - is
> to find out which kind of engineering work is worth what.

There are at least three forms of funding platforms that tend to see some Free 
Software development activity:

 * Bounty funding (such as Bountysource)
 * Ongoing funding (such as Liberapay)
 * Crowdfunding campaign (such as Crowd Supply and IndieGoGo)

I think these platforms tend to favour work that can be readily advertised, 
packaged and sold, but of course not all work that is worth doing will fit 
into this form.

Crowdfunding is most definitely something that has a marketing component, and 
this means that people have to make a pitch to others to convince them of the 
work's value, but software is still seen as intangible and less valuable than 
hardware. With hardware, you hopefully get some goodies at the end of the 
campaign that are exclusively yours and that people outside the campaign do 
not get. With software, you share the rewards with others, and also with 
everyone else if it is Free Software. People might wonder, as usual, whether 
they shouldn't just leave it to others to put up the money.

There are also a few common problems with ongoing funding and crowdfunding. 
One is that some people feel that they have to be highly responsive to their 
backers in order to keep them happy. This ends up with people burning out 
because they are effectively having to do the work plus an "always on" public 
relations job. YouTube millionaires have this problem, apparently, so I am not 
sure it can be solved easily with more money:

(The other problem is that people fail to communicate, particularly if things 
do not go well, but that is another story.)

Bounty funding should get around this cultural problem of people expecting 
"always on" responsiveness, but the work favours things that are either "odd 
jobs" that don't pay very well or are things that would normally be put out as 
a contract for bidding. I noted in my blog article about funding platforms...

...that while the sums involved for some bounties are considerably better than 
the usual "tip jar" amounts, the rather informal arrangements around getting 
the work done, combined with people competing speculatively (as opposed to 
collaborating), means that these large sums go unclaimed. Three years on and 
the IBM people are still waiting for their LuaJIT port (or dragging their feet 
on accepting any submitted work):

Ongoing funding potentially promotes a more sustainable way of funding people, 
at least if we can ignore those cultural issues around keeping the audience 
happy, because a developer can potentially prioritise their work appropriately 
and not feel that they have to dance to everybody else's tune all the time. 
But the problem then is to persuade people that the work is worth supporting. 
Some might claim that a successfully funded person could just be working for a 
company, but that requires a sole employer to put up that person's entire 


> > People need genuine solutions that do not involve financial speculation,
> > legal uncertainty, and exposure to criminal schemes. A crucial aspect of
> > funding Free Software is exactly that of giving people certainty
> > so that they can focus on what they actually want to do.
> Fine again, except for the last part.
> It is not the desire of the Free Software engineer that should drive the
> directions of funds, but the needs of the users. There can be a wide
> difference between the three things:
>  a) what people want to do
>  b) what people are good at
>  c) what others need
> To be succesful in my eyes, a funding model would need to make sure that
> mainly c) and b) is matched.

It is true that you cannot just have people doing exactly what they want and 
expecting to get paid for it, no matter what it is. (Well, actually you can: 
it is called art.) Then again, by "what they actually want to do" I meant the 
work of writing software, as opposed to things like meddling with dubious 
financial instruments, executing foreign exchange transactions, drumming up 
business on a speculative basis, and so on.

But you also cannot leave it to the whims of "the market" to decide, either, 
because you end up in precisely the situation where only the "cool", 
marketable projects get funding. And those projects may only address the fad 
of the day and leave nothing for others to build upon. Worse, for Free 
Software, they may also exploit other software projects to deliver their 


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