[clug] 'Gifting' to and Volunteering on FOSS projects.

Arjen Lentz arjen at lentz.com.au
Thu Aug 20 17:28:38 MDT 2009

Hi Steve

----- "steve jenkin" <sjenkin at canb.auug.org.au> wrote:
> Off-list I've talked to a friend about fundraising for FOSS projects,
> and his advice is not to waste my time, it is historically very, very
> hard.
> [...]
> It is common for FOSS people to give either time/talent or money
> supporting FOSS projects?
> Are there any effective ways to increase fund-raising for FOSS
> projects? [Or is it really up to Big IT Companies kicking in?]

I've pondered this over the years... basic idea: FOSS is not a charity, and it might not be a good idea to make it be perceived that way.

Big IT companies commercialising aspects while paying devs is good, but only picks a specific subset of projects - others are valuable to many but not interesting for a company.

I currently believe the issue is not as much about payment when downloading, but about triggering reciprocity, one of the basic social psychology "rules" by which we function in our societies. Reciprocity is triggered when something is given/offered and (explicitly) accepted. The person receiving the gesture/gift/whatever will then feel compelled to do something in return; this is basic psychology so as long as you trigger it, it'll work.

Now, a return favour may not be money, it could be feedback, helping other users, documentation, actual code, and so on. For most of those the key is infrastructure, if a project makes it really easy to contribute (in any/all of those ways), more of it will happen. 

I believe Launchpad is proving this - while slightly awkward for project admins, the overall infra makes it very easy to contribute in both code and otherwise and it's all neatly linked (bzr branches to bugs, email lists, etc). It's not perfect but it seems to work very well.

A project needs to also be clear about what it wants (aka asking for the return favour) and how, so how to contribute towards doc (style, format, layout, etc), how to submit a patch and get it accepted, how to submit an effective bug report. There are some generic rules (that newbies don't know yet) but each project will also have some specifics.

And then there's money. But I'd like to see all those options as members of the same group of return actions, otherwise you're very likely to make an organisational mistake that prevents people from contributing.

So, how to trigger reciprocity in the online world?
I haven't solved that one yet, but my current suggestion is to replace the "Download" button with a "I accept this gift" label. A surrounding (short) text can clarify, and of course it'll only work if the project is then clear with asking for its return favour.

I'm not certain that this *does* trigger the desired automatic behaviour, but I think it's a viable approach. I've privately suggested it to various people and projects, but I don't have feedback on it yet. It'd be great if more projects were to try it, then we'll find and - also see what (parts) don't work optimally so we can then improve on them.

Given the current predominant "leeching" ecosystem, having a few experiments like this won't make things worse, and it might just find us a way out of the predicament we've put ourselves in over time with FOSS. The magic of 0. There's consequences.

Arjen Lentz, Director @ Open Query (http://openquery.com)
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