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Open Source Funding 101

Jim Thompson wrote in with a feature regarding funding Open Source projects. His proposal is to create some sort of agency that will route money where it goes, but more importantly, allow funds to be pooled, but still go where the donator wants them to go. Hit the link and read...
The following was written by Slashdot reader Jim Thompson

I'm writing you with an idea. Perhaps this has been thought of before; if so, I'd like to be pointed to the originator to learn more. However, I've been following the open-source movement under its various guises for many years now, and I've not heard of anything similar (if it exists, it needs to be better advertised). Maybe it's a bad idea, in which case you'll no doubt inform me so, and quickly. But I think it's a good idea.

What I'm wondering is whether there is an established mechanism for donating money to open-source projects. I don't mean simply that I want to throw money at any random project, because I know I could always mail my cash to Richard Stallman for the GNU project. What I mean is, if I know of some specific project I want to support, something that doesn't fall under RMS's aegis, is there some established agency or foundation to which I can donate money? Someplace that will both ensure that my money is either used for its intended purpose, or returned to me?

If such an agency doesn't exist, I think it's high time somebody started one.

Many open-source projects get along fine simply with the time and equipment of their authors, which usually means spare time and a home PC. Other projects need special equipment or sponsorship. If you go to Freshmeat and read the home pages of the active projects, many openly request donations of money and/or equipment. Just the other day, I visited the home page of BurnIT, a CD-Recorder project and read that its author's CD-R had broken. The author would continue writing code, but couldn't test it directly. Anyone wanting to donate a CD-R would, the author noted, be welcome to do so.

More recently I read an interview with Dag Brattli, the man behind the Linux/IR project to bring support for IrDA to linux. In the interview Mr. Brattli mentioned that he would like his project to be a member of the IrDA standards organization, so he could have access to its documentation, name, and other benefits. But he couldn't afford the fifteen hundred dollar membership fee.

Upon reading this I remember thinking that $1500 is a paltry sum compared to the vast resources of those who follow, use, and benefit from open-source projects. This is the economic parallel to the principle that, "With enough eyes, all bugs are shallow". With enough wallets, all costs are trivial.

Now, I am not a wealthy man; I have a wife, two daughters, and a mortgage, so I can't afford to buy the guy a $1500 IrDA membership by myself. But I could easily afford to donate, say, $100 toward the membership. And I would gladly do so provided that fourteen other people could be found to do the same. But here's the rub: if those fourteen others can not be found, or the project folds before they are, I expect to have my C-note returned to me. I want my money used for the intended purpose or returned.

So what? That's my problem, right? If I want to ensure that my money is well-used, then I should e-mail the guy, get to know him, build some confidence and then, *maybe*, I send the money.

But maybe it's not just my problem. What about those fourteen others who might also want to donate $100: are they also expected to go through their own evaluation of the project author and whether he's trustworthy? Maybe fourteen other people aren't willing to go through that process. Maybe the Linux/IR project never gets its $1500 because fifteen people can't be found who are willing to send their money to somebody they've never heard of.

Maybe it's more general than than. Maybe there are other projects that lose donors for the same reason. Maybe it's more than just my problem.

What I want to propose is that the open-source movement needs its own fundraising arm. Something like a United Way for geeks: an escrow agency that will collect money from people like me and distribute it to projects in need of support.

This agency will provide donors like me and J. Random Benefactor with some peace of mind that our money is being used for its intended purpose. There are several ways the agency could do this. For example, to raise the $1500 for the Linux/IR project, the agency will take my $100 and hold it in escrow. It will stay there until either the remaining $1400 is raised, or some predefined period of time has passed. At that time my money will be returned (or, at my option, used for some other deserving project).

Of course, even if Linux/IR gets its IrDA membership, that's no guarantee that the project will succeed. I'm not expecting an escrow agency to attempt to provide such a guarantee. The agency would have to provide such "caveat emptors" to each its donors.

Will the existence of an escrow agency increase donations to open-source projects? There's probably no way to know for sure because no one's keeping statistics on such things, but I believe an agency *would* increase donations. I believe that people are far more likely to send money to an established, trusted agency than to send money to some random person in the Internet.

The key words there are "establish, trusted". How does a new agency become instantly established and trusted, especially in such a new and dynamic area as open-source software? One way would be to build such an agency on a reputation that's already been established. has such a reputation. So does Red Hat Software. So does O'Reilly and Associates. A few people on the 'net have their own individual reputations; Eric S. Raymond comes first to mind. I believe that some such organizations or people will have to sponsor or collaborate on a fund-raising/escrow agency for it to succeed.

I could ramble on about the additional benefits an escrow agency could provide to open-source projects, but I want to leave the focus on what I believe to be the main benefit of such an agency: to promote donations to open-source projects by increasing the degree of trust donors feel for the effectiveness of their donations. That benefit alone justifies the establishment of an escrow agency.

So there you have it. If it Loses, shoot it down.

Finally, to put my money where my mouth is, I will write a check for $100 the instant I learn of someone willing to escrow my money and collect the other $1400 for Linux/IR. It doesn't even have to be a formally established agency -- if ESR, or Red Hat, O'Reilly, or wants to "alpha test" the idea by taking collections for Linux/IR, *and* is willing to actively promote the fund-raising, I will send my $100 check to them.

A couple of other notes: first, I want to stress that none of the above discussion of Dag Brattli and the Linux/IR project is meant in any way to impugn Mr. Battli's reputation. I'm sure he's a nice and trustworthy young man; I simply chose him as an example.

Second, although I have a small amount of money to donate, I have no time to donate. Even the short time I've taken to write this note is time I should have spent working on my Real Job. I will leave it to the leaders of the open-source movement to implement this idea, if it is worthy. But I will support it with my dollars.

Thanks for your time.
Jim Thompson


Interview with Dag Brattli
BurnIT news

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Open Source Funding

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    You've already donated something to the open source movement - your time to clearly articulate and share your ideas. You've done more than I have!

    I think that in general the idea is good and I would also be willing to support it. However, there are a few potential problems that I believe should be discussed.

    I believe it is important be able to specify (to varying degrees) where your money will go. Last thing we want is a bureaucracy forming that decides which project disserves funding. As you suggest the agency would hold the money in escro.

    Another danger is that with the availability of money - the attitude of the pool of developers might change. The spirit of open source might be lost. One may come to expect funding in order to start working on a project. Coming from MIT, I found the coolest people were those that slaved and struggled night and day to make something happen. The availability of money for themselves or the equipment they needed was not an issue or obstacle. Somebody - somewhere has what you need. Just go get it and leave them a note.

    Now my small start up has started to play the SBIR and DARPA funding game. Its very corrupt! Many f the 'request for proposals' are there only to be compliant with the law. The winner of the proposal is usually known before the proposal is written. We defiantly don't want opensource corrupted with kind of activity.

    The word 'agency' frightens me. I think government agency - but clearly the word is broader than that.

    I guess in summary - many agencies start out as the result of the efforts of people with good intentions. After their project succeeds the do gooders move on to their next project. The people that are left behind on maintain a project may have other intentions. Over time an agency that initially was well meaning and positive becomes obstructive and destructive. Of this is the nature of man.

  • It isn't Big in the sense that General Electric is Big. It is Big in the sense that:
    * They are well known in the Open Source/Free Software community
    * They are not likely to disappear anytime soon
    * They have a vested interest in supporting the movement
    * They have a vested interest in avoiding the scandals that would appear if they misused the money

    The above make them an ideal candidate in my mind even though I strongly disagree with them on some of their positions. The Free Software Foundation would be just as good, but there are people who strongly disagree with them on some issues.

    We're never going to find an organization that is completely perfect politically, but we don't have to. For me to allow someone to handle my money doesn't require me to agree with them, it requires me to trust them. Those are two completely independant things. (Now if they were keeping a cut, then I'd have to agree with them to a point)
  • Posted by Saurus:

    Here's a good looking forum for paying for free software projects,

    I agree it's not very publicized.

  • It's hard for someone brought up in the western world to believe, but the "Free Market" is not the answer to everything. OSS is producing benefits that capitalism has failed to produce.

    The fact that it works so effectively is related to the fact that information can now be copied for free if you let it. The principles of free duplication of information go more naturally with the physical realities of the medium than the notions of Intellectual Property and copyright (not that I'm vehmently opposed to either).

    Calling it communism is either deliberate or involuntary stupidity, but OSS DOES have more in common with the ideals of communism than captialism.

    I believe the original proposal has some merit, but I think it could cause more grief than it solves. Assume it was successful and lots of people/organisations started to donate money. This would attract LOTS of undesirables who try to abuse the system. People would start announcing vapor-gpl-ware in an effort to gain donations. The OSS community would be infected with many of the ills that plague commerical software organisations. The few deserving individuals/projects could get drowned out in a sea of wannabes and fakes.

    Personally I would rather fund OSS by taxing those who insist on using proprietary software. That is, one releases software with a license with "same rights and restrictions as GPL, but only on non-proprietary OS, all rights reserved on proprietary platforms". Companies would have an incentive to release software on Linux/FreeBSD first, and gain benefits of bug-fixes and people finding new applications for the software, but they can still make money charging people who insist on using winXX. Of course, this license would be incompatable with GPL (I checked with RMS, who didn't really like the idea).
  • Linux International already does this.. All one needs tdo is apply for funds..
  • I was thinking a few weeks ago. If someone donated 2 billion to the 'linux cause' it would generate something like 140 million a year in interest (assuming you put it in a bank at .07% interest) That would fund a LOT of projects. I believe that it should be done on a grant-style basis. Maybe have hardware that can be 'loaned' out. Have centralized hardware for people to try things out on.
    There would have to be some serious organization to it, and why person a) would get the xyz hardware when person b) would not. Even though they both work on simular projects. That's why i think a 'grant' type structure would work well. You would have to fill out paperwork....go before a board of some kind....but it would have to be equally available. Maybe for the release of your first project, the maximum available would be $1000. Second release would be a bit more...etc...
    For those of you who don't think this is a good idea, remember that many of the good things that are out there for linux are developed by people that also develop that piece of software for their employer, or their employer allows them to. Such as Enlighenment, Samba and the Kernel. I know that there are many other pieces of software that are out there that would be further along if they could work on it either full time or more than they are currently available.
    Maybe be a part of 'Linux International' or some such organization.
  • SPI was founded to handle donations for Debian, and now it serves as a property manager for a number of free software projects. SPI seems an excellent choice for donations, for these people who have problems with some of RMS's ideas.

    We should not encourage setting up yet another organization. We have too many already. Talking about setting another organization may also give an oportunity for others trying to cash in since Linux is hot now. is meant as an marking organization. Thus it is not a good choice for the goals outlined in this article.
  • SPI was founded to handle donations for Debian, and now it serves as a property manager for a number of free software projects. SPI seems an excellent choice for donations, for these people who have problems with some of RMS's ideas.

    We should not encourage setting up yet another organization. We have too many already. Talking about setting another organization may also give an opportunity for others trying to cash in since Linux is hot now. is meant as an marketing organization. Thus it is not a good choice for the goals outlined in this article.
  • Sure, Marxism and anarchism have nothing to do with one another . . .*Snicker* *Snort* *Guffaw* *Chuckle* *Sniff*.

    How about instead of defining an ideology by the way its stupid modern "followers" view it, you actually go out and read its original statement? Come to think of it, I believe more people would have respect for Christianity (especialyl Americans ;) ) if they did just that.

  • I think that some organization such as RedHat or some organization that has it's reputation on the line, should take this funding. They could assemble teams of programmers who are interested in taking on this, and once the product is deliverd, they get the paycheck.

  • Donating Hardware and providing monetary support are all important issues to the OSS community. However, another issue brought to light by this article is the high cost of membership of standard's organization. Essentially, the only organizations that will pony up the cash for Irda membership are large companies like Microsoft, HP, Compaq, etc. The $1500 fee sounds like it is used not only to cover costs, but to make it hard for small organizations or individuals to participate in standards development. I think OSS advocates inside IRda supporting lower membership fees or a grass roots effort to pressure IRda is needed , before someone creates a bureaucratic OSS charity organization.
  • The free software Bazaar isn't enough of a solution, me thinks. It needs to support the other side of the equation also. It needs a way for developers to list the projects they'd like to work on, and let people offer money to help. The current system relies on the person with the money knowing what they want, but what if they don't know they want it yet? I think people with money to donate would be more willing to pool their funds on a project when they know someone is interested in working on it.
  • Not at all! Communism and central planning are government-enforced things. Many people voluntarily contributing their own money toward causes they care about, administered through a non-governmental agency with specific goals and public accountability is not in the same universe as the failed ideologies you mention here.
  • A similar project to this can be found at the Free Internet Roleplay Experience [] which has been set up to promote MUD's and their ilk.

    Here, any unallocated monies are donated to the Red Cross (probably because the founders are primarily Swiss :) ) and equipment (I believe they use SPARC's) is to be donated to the FSF on dissolution. Contributing members (who donate the money) have a say in how it is spent.

    This may be worth a look to see how others have approached the problem.

    As background, MUME used to run at, until one day, the server crashed and they asked the sysadmin to start it up again. The sysadmin went "what MUD?", looked at the bandwidth stats and told them to get a new site! The force of the players wanting to keep it open was enough to get money donated and a site sorted out. It has been there for 2 years now.

  • Rob's out of school now, he must have plenty of free time! :)
  • Great feature!

    I had begun an article on pretty much the same subject, and even submitted a feature proposal to Rob (that got ignored as usual). I talked about it to as much people as I could at the Free Software conference Autour du Libre 1999 [] in Brest this january (where I presented a paper [] on another topic - shameless plug), but was greeted more with polite interest than with enthusiasm.

    You can read my ramblings in the draft article:
    A Free Software Auction Service []...

    Note: as of why we mustn't fear corruption or other inefficiencies: since there is free competition among such services, that draw their money from voluntary funding, if one service is inefficient, funds will move to another one!

    -- Faré@TUNES [].org

  • What about some kind of stock exchange: Anyone who is willing to fund an OSS project gets some sort of account at a trusted agency and can place his money on any advertised project (typically some sort program, the funder needs but no one hasn't cared to do yet).

    When some programmer claims to have finished the project, the funders get informed and can - by their own choice - decide if it comes up to their expectations and donate their money to him. The funders can change their prefered projects at any time but they cannot reclaim their money. If they don't decide on a project for a certain timeout period (e.g. 2 years) the account gets canceled and the money is automatically donated to the FSF (or any other predefined OSS Organisation).

    This would allow programmers to make a living (or at least cover their expenses) by writing free software that the people actually need. Since all donations are attributed voluntarily, the chances for abuse are minimal.

    The obvious problems are, of course, to find a trusted organisation to run this stock exchange, to ensure secure communication with the server (US export laws) and to establish an infrastructure (maybe in cooperation with a bank) to allow small donations without excessive international transaction fees.
  • i think this is a great idea.... and for all us who pay taxes, this would make it lots easier to take it a nice write off...
  • I don't think it would fly. In much the same way charities are setup today, there is no central authority - yet good comes of it. It may not be the most efficient, but it's better than the alternatives - turning control over to a central authority (government for example).

    OSS needs as little centralization as possible. And, funding is a non-issue - if people really need the feature, they'll find a way. If enough people want IrDR support, they'll post to usenet, search out other people - make the connection.

    It has always been this way.

    As to the possibility of losing money, all I can say is, welcome to the real world.

  • The spirit of adventure is perhaps no where more prevalent than in the technology sector. This year alone I predict many new startups based entirely on Linux alone. Linux is great technology that is made better every day. It's dynamic development model allows Linux to gain an advantage over even the largest competitors technically speaking.

    The one thing that does have to change is we need a cohesive marketing effort from the community to combat the ZD-Net FUD. After all... when ZD-Net condescends to come down from their high loft to do a Linux story it's either to do a useless comparison by people who no nothing about Linux or to do the beck-and-call of their annointed leader Bill.

    The hit-and-run style of so-called Journalism ala Jesse Berst, ZD-Net et. al has done nothing but spread untruths about Linux for a very long time.
    They have no accountability, and therefor they have no credability. However many clueless newcomers to Linux read the FUD in ZD-Net and believe it. ZD-Net even has a so-called "Briefing Center" to go and learn about Linux. (Do people really go in there??) Talk about the blind leading the blind....

    I apologize for the rant but IMHO a Linux community based marketing effort with official elected spokespersons might not be such a bad idea to help us counter the Jesse Bersts, James Allchins and Sherrif Nottinghams of the IT world.
    That way the press can have a source of official information which will be backed by conscensus in the Linux community. Such a spokesperson would be elected by vote and report to a board of elected people to come up with an official Linux "word"
    on event X,Y and Z.

    Just my 2 cents....


  • As a former Captain of the USMC and the President of Linux Systems Group, I've been inside of North Korea, I've been to East Germany (When it exisited) so I suspect your not even old enough to remember the cold war... this is the one issue that is a pet peeve of mine. Linux is more like the town hall meeting. The place where the little guys can get together in the name of....let's see what was that elusive word..Oh yes DEMOCRACY! and Capitalism to create a great product. As I recall a few people got together in the 1700's to form a union of states and they did it by conscensus, and formed the constitution. Your analysis is not only flawed but represents a psuedo-wannabe-intellectualism that I find in many people who have never traveled outside of US borders or have studied history in any meaningfull way. If Linux were communistic, Linux would not be a party boss and us peons would contribute nothing.
    As it is this CAPITALISTIC approach to creating a product, must really frighten Microsoft lovers like yourself .... After all It was Microsoft who spouted "One World...One Program"

    Trying to lock out competition (the very essence of what makes capitalism work) is fascist and communistic in many ways (ala Microsoft).

    Linux displays the very essence of democracy. The willing gathering of talanted people, to create something from nothing. Not because the 'party' said so, not because some labor union boss said so..but because programming, or submitting bug reports, or even helping do a grammer/spellcheck a friends web site. I've fought on foriegn soil for my country and have a pretty good understanding of world affairs.

    Before you speak of something you know nothing of at least try to become educated first.

    I signed my name to this document and noticed you did not.

    Nick Donovan
    LSG - President

  • Hurrying out the door to fast this morning....

    I'm doing this in my car so please excuse and mess....

  • Hurrying out the door to fast this morning....

    I'm doing this in my car so please excuse the mess....

  • Awesome! Now I can get the simplest GTK widgets together into some sort of executable, call it GNUsomething 0.0.1, claim it has a terribly bright future, and get money for it!

    Its like taking candy from a baby.
  • First, I have to say that the remarks about "communism" and "collectivism" are absurd. I'm not proposing that we set up a new economic system -- capitalism works fine, thank you. But there are forces within capitalism other than just buying and selling. Grants, donations, foundations, endowments, charitable agencies -- aren't such entities already functioning within our capitalist society?

    On the other hand, the idea that we could "collect" our funds and put them to good use is right on the money. If you want to call that "collectivism", so be it. The point is, that by joining forces, we can help *some* projects that would be (and frequently are) worse off without monetary help.

    A case in point: the post above, asking why not just buy equipment and donate it a project I want to support? Well, what if I can't afford the equipment by myself? Or take the example of the IrDA membership. I'll bet you can find 15 people willing to donate $100 each *much* faster than you can find one person willing to pony up the entire $1500.

    About the question of wanting to control what happens with my money... I do, to some extent want to control where my money goes; after all, I worked hard to earn it. Once it goes to buy a piece of equipment or other support, though, it's gone -- that's the end of my control, and I recognize that fact. But if there were an established agency that I could trust to see that my money makes at least the *first* part of its journey safely, then I as J. Random Donor am going to be more willing to contribute in the first place.

    Convenience has a big part to play in donating money. An established agency could set up a web site, take credit card donations, allow me to designate my recipient on-line. In other words, make it *really* easy for me to part with my dollars. This is another counter-argument to the question of why don't I just send a money order or buy some equipment and mail it: because the average person wants his charity to be *easy*.

    Make it easy for donors. Give them confidence in where their money goes. Publicize. I think it would work.

    Jim Thompson (using "kzinti", his slashdot logon)

  • From Websters:

    communism \Com"mu*nism\, n. [F. communisme, fr. commun common.] A scheme of equalizing the social conditions of life; specifically, a scheme which contemplates the abolition of inequalities in the possession of property, as by distributing all wealth equally to all, or by holding all wealth in common for the equal use and advantage of all.

    Now, let me get this straight - the system being proposed is a mechanism whereby those who wish to support the efforts of a programmer may do so easily.

    Does it equalize the social conditions of life? No.
    Does it equalize the property ownership of those involved? No.

    Doesn't look like communism to me.

    Maybe if you stopped trying to relive the McCarthy witchhunts you might stop for a moment and actually look at the evidence in front of you. Judge it by it's merits and flaws, rather than the pathetic little box you've chosen to put it into.
  • Communism n. 1 a social system in which most property is publicly owned and each person works for the common benefit. b political theory advocating this.

    a) OSS isn't a social system. It's a system of software development.
    b) Most software isn't OSS, but OSS still fits alongside closed-source software well.

    Still doesn't look like communism to me ;-)

  • I think this is an idea that really needs to be thought about. While the OSS community has grown from a very "grassroots" (to use an overused term) movement, as it matures, it will need funding and a level of organization that it doesnt have now.
    Take the linux kernel. It has a sort of monarchical structure. With linus being the good king, and et al. being the aristocracy of development.
    If OSS wants to continue, it needs some way to evaluate which projects are really serious, and which deserve money. Someone to differentiate the serious development ventures from pet projects (somtimes there is a fine line between these), and fund the projects that really need the money.
    Many of you here rail against "bureaucracies", but that is what is needed if one wants to set up an efficient structure that works as intended. Individual funding is just too chaotic and dispersed to produce nearly as much bang for the buck as funding that is coordinated by one set of people. As for funding this structure, most, if not all, the people could be volunteers. One other small fact is that the organization should try to emulate one key characteristic of the software it represents - it should be open. None of that IOC business should ever happen. If you make the whole inner workings and process open, then abuse of power or embezzlement etc. will happen far less.
    I think this idea has a lot of merit, and that it would really be of use in this community, IF it is done right.

    my 2 canadian cents.
    1.344 cents US as of 9:48AM Tue Feb 9 1999
  • The problem is that I have become very jaded with this sort of thing. For example donating money to Third world organizations and finding out that your money isn't even reaching it's intended destination. How do you get around this?

    I can give food, but not money to people on the street. I think that we should give equipment and not money to Open Source projects. If something like a membership is needed then you should get 15 like minded people together to buy the membership.

    I might be more open to a site where Open Source projects post hardware that they need. I even have a 386 that I would be willing to part with for the right project (the cost of shipping is probably more than the machine is worth).

  • There are a few reasons why I think the Bazaar is a fundimentally sound solution to this problem, once it gets automated properly.

    1, it works ALONGSIDE grant-making organizations such as Linux International so that there is an independent paper-trail for donations.

    2, it's a beaurocratically "thin" tool. Most of the work is done by the proposers.

    Things I believe need improvement:

    1, it needs to be entirely automated. Currently I believe Axel does this by hand.

    2, There needs to be an easy way to pre-commit money- such as "I've donated $200 to Linux International, to be paid to you upon completion."

    Anyway, something to consider.
  • Yes; it's unclear from their web-site how active this granting program is. They have reports no more recent than 1995. But what do I know, I just started looking into this!

    There are other choices in addition to, the original sponsor of "The Bazaar" conference in NYC in March, also funds open-source projects. They have educational non-profit charity status, which is a significant milestone for an organization. It can take the IRS over a year to bestow this on non-profits, and it costs around $2500.

    But, in addition to simple funding agencies, there needs to be a public forum (a bazaar, if you like) for people to publicly kick around ideas.
  • Several people have already mentioned Axel Boldt's Free Software Bazaar, at []. Here are some points that may have gone unmentioned.

    The bazaar is a mechanism for promising and organizing pledges. It is not actually involved in the transfer of funds or other compensation; you need to handle that offline. That's a good thing, because it allows you to specify your interest before you actually pay out your money. It also removes the worry that the bazaar is doing mischief.

    The bazaar tracks deadbeats, so abuses to the honor system do not go unnoticed. If you promise money for a specific goal, and don't pay out when that goal is accomplished, your name goes onto a publicly available list of unreliable pledgers. That's also a good thing.

    The nature of the goal to which a pledge is applied is to be specified by the pledger, not by the bazaar. It is the pledger's responsibility to make the goal specific enough to be meaningful.

    Pledgers may tack their pledges onto existing goals. This means that the reward for achieving a goal is not fundamentally bounded, and is proportional to marketplace demand.

    I think these points should answer all the concerns about creeping communism. The Free Software Bazaar is just about perfect from a free-market standpoint. Its only problem is its relative obscurity.

    Maybe somebody should pledge money for advertising.

    (BTW, "kzinti" is plural. Maybe you want "kzin"?)

  • The idea sounds interesting. A few comments:

    * Some people have remarked here that it's already easy to support people by donating money or equipment. I don't quite agree:

    - There is a world outside of the United States, and international money orders are expensive (something like $10 for a $50 real transfert of money). An organization... is better organized (can make bulkier transferts, which are much less expensive).

    - It's not easy sometimes seeing who you are dealing with. An organization is better equipped to track what they are doing.

    * To the wise-asses who comment on communism: there's a so-called Goodwin's law that says that in Usenet discussions the probability that somebody will make a reference to Nazi Germany goes to one when the discussion time goes up. It seems that this law has to be adapted to also include stalinian communism.

    * The problem with such an organization is that, as in all organizations, it would get plagued by politics and design-by-committee.

    - For politics: see the FSF and all the rabid discussions on RMS' thoughts.

    - For design-by-committee: the problem here is that waiting for nearly-unanimous approval kills project. Everybody wants his/her pet feature in it; see the Linux kernel and how Linus Torvalds has to say "this is really freeze time". It's no easy task running efficiently an organization of volunteers (much harder task than running employees: you can tell employees they're paid to do their jobs; you can't vex volunteers).
  • If OSS/GPL is such a good business model, then I don't see why the need for funding?

    Besides, if the point of open source is that if someone stops maintaining the code, for one reason or another, someone else will pick up the slacks, just wait around for awhile and someone else will pick up the code writing.

    I'll *buy* a finished product. I'll give to charity. But I fail to see why I should buy an unfinished product.
  • Common people....there were four posts up, only one of which was vaguely intelligent....sigh. If I wanted to hear this ramblings I would wathc CSPAN. Anyways, this is a great idea....the big question is who would administer it. While Red Hat (I don't know about O'Rielly) has proven to be quite benevolent up to this point....something seems alittle funny about having them administer a fund like this.....also, too many eggs are being concentrated in Red Hats lab...they already have RHDL, host Freshmeat and GNOME....again, I think their doing a fine job.....but lets diversify alittle. is a potential choice....or possibly a new organization created to handle just this....a project like this would be quite abit different than your average programing project....

    Hows this for a project idea...hire one person to work full time documenting and consolidating Linux and other OSS data into one place....hell, do it through the linux documentation project....but more through documentation (and I know people are working on this, just someone full time would be nice) would make this movement much more accessable.

    BTW: Collectivism in the USSR failed for a number of reasons...and while there are problems with collectivists projects, they are not inherently flawed. For a neat example of collectivism that...well, almost worked, check out the former Yugoslavia. Yes they was more because of ethinic and nationalist tenions rather than economic one. Interesting stuff. But completely unrelated.
  • Well, I sure you certainly have a better view of the situation there than my, purely academic one....there did seem to be some strenghs to Yugoslavias methods, they might not of worked, but I think they were at least interesting and worthy of study. The best, although still warped, implementation of Marx yet, the other counties just mangled Marx. And from what I can tell, Yugoslavia was begining a small economic turnaround when it all went to shit...hell, it was even exporting some stuff to the west, which makes it the only communist nation I can think of that did. But yes, there were certainly problems...and it is very difficult to make a collective work, primarily due to the fact that people suck. This needs to be incorportated into any notion of a collective before it becomes viable, ie a collective that works off of the notion that all individuals act in their best interest....its an odd beast....but I have seen models for it.
  • Where do I sign
  • Kelsey and Schneier proposed an escrow system for electronic cash in "The Street Performer Protocol." [] As the title implies, this was written to deal with artistic works, but it wouldn't be hard to adapt it for open-source financing.

  • I've been wondering if a company that sold support for Linux could then use its staff to contribute to the opensource movement.

    For the company its people get good expert level skills in the applications that they are supporting... the rest of the world gets the software.

    I have to admit I don't think this idea would fly commercially - but its an interesting idea.

  • In principle, I like this idea, but I also agree with the main criticism emerging: "beware of corruption and bureaucracy". So...

    Modularity can resist bureaucracy.
    Any such project will have to be structured so that it's effective even if it's being done by just one person, but scaleable to accomodate unlimited numbers of additional volunteers. This spontaneous organization is one of the strengths of Open Source in the first place.

    Automation can resist corruption.
    Making something technically impossible or difficult to accomplish goes a lot further than assuring people that you'll never let anyone do it. Someone should write a CGI program that accepts monetary or equipment pledges and keeps track of what goes where. The less human intervention, the better-- fewer financial irregularities and less administrative overhead.
  • And well-articulated besides. I agree that having a or a affiliation would help a lot; even before 'official' buy-in from one of those parties this needs some web space and CGI work. Maybe jitterbug or bugzilla could be used; don't know. Anyway, I agree with Mr. Thompson -- I would be happy to make piecemeal donations to a variety of projects if I had some assurance that my money wasn't in danger of being squandered.
  • where if you say donate $50 to the IrDA/Linux project you get a Linux tote bag donated by somebody like Red Hat?
  • Go for it - there will doubtless be some ups and plenty of downs, but I feel that the opensource ideal would benefit in the long yes, count me in.
  • I would much prefer to support Free Software by buying it on CD (as I do with RedHat). Or I would buy T-shirts, mugs, or "affiliated" products. But straight donations? I don't know...
  • My name is David Rostcheck. In addition to being a software engineer and benefitting a lot from open source, I'm a director for the Bisexual Resource Center (, a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Through involvement w/ activism, I've learned how and why nonprofits work. I've been thinking nonprofits and open source a lot, it's great to see this question. This problem has been solved thoroughly in other fields; there's a rich toolset we should be using. Here's what we need and why:

    First, the Open Source movement needs a *501(c)3* (US IRS-registered) nonprofit corporation to accept donations and give grants. Other non-501(c)3 nonprofits won't cut it. If a 501(c)3 asks IBM for $1M to fund open source grants, it makes financial sense for IBM to give them the money. While Linux International generally has the right idea, if they asks for $1M, IBM loses $1M. Plus, 501C3s get more $ from individual donors because they can write it off as a tax deduction (apx. 30% more on average). Any nonprofit intending to fund open source should be actively working to attain 501C3 status.

    Yes, attaining this status takes paperwork, money, and time. This is for a reason. If a charity hasn't pursued, it, IRS doesn't think they're serious (and you shouldn't either, no matter how good their intentions).

    Next, the corporation needs an *Executive Director*, a *Development Director*, and a *Board of Directors*. The executive director and development director should be paid, both of them are full-time jobs and take full-time attention. Members might have to pay to be on the board. They might be individuals or organizations. The board members need to bring significant name recognition with them. You can split a board into different kinds of board. Individuals might be on the board of directors and not have to pay, organizations might go on a nonvoting (advisory) board and need to pay. The board's role is to meet infrequently, set policy, and hire/fire exec. and devel. director. The executive director runs the org, directing programs and media efforts to further the org's mission (this is important because your advisory board members contribute to get the name association with your movement). The development director raises money full-time, seeking grants, corporate donations, and individual donations. They could initially be the same person, but should be separated as soon as $ permits.

    The nonprofit furthers its goals by distributing grants. It needs a standard grant application, guidelines set by the board, and a grant approval committee to decide who to give $ out to.

    You can accelerate 501C3 status by finding another
    501C3 to serve as a "501C3 fiscal sponsor". Doing this is essential - if there's an existing linux charity org that's not 501C3 and isn't spending most of its time looking for a 501C3 sponsor, it doesn't know what it's doing or isn't really serious. Linux International looks like its pretty much along the right lines, but it's not 501C3 and it seems to have some weird practices. Like, it doesn't fund itself out of its own donations. This
    sounds good to the naive but is an actively bad idea. Any nonprofit needs to operate. The $ has to
    come from somewhere. Its efficiency is measured on its annual report when it tells its contributors
    what % of its efforts went to the end goal. If it doesn't fund out if its donations, it's going and
    getting other donations that aren't reported, so who knows how efficient it is - very bad, keep things on the level.

    Why is all this necessary? Well, it would *really*
    kick-start open source to another level altogether - which is needed for open source to really win a paradigm shift. If people could go 1/2 time and work on open source projects, or do a year funded work on a project, or get some hardware that they otherwise couldn't get, working on Open Source would become a serious career path to many who currently contribute what they can, but could do much more with more support. And if there was a 501(c)3 taking the money, it could raise some really significant amounts while acting indirectly to benefit companies and the development of technology in general. But those companies really can't give serious money now because there's no appropriate vehicle...
  • I believe more people would have respect for Christianity (especialyl Americans ;) ) if they did just that.

    I have read the original statement. It makes me dislike christianity/judaism/islam even more. That said, what X was in the past doesn't matter when you're dealing with what X is in the present. I respect christianity the way a schizophrenic respects their schizophrenia.

  • It's easy to police, to be funded a project must have a open mailing list, and every finacial transation between the project and the escrow company is sent to the list.

    Escrow companies should only be companies that have a stake in the OSS movement, where your credability is everything.

    The trick is paying the escrow companies for the cost associated with escrowing the funds, the bank account, the checks, the time...

    Something like copyleft might work where each project has a t-shirt that copyleft sells, and in exchange for the business brought to copyleft by the project, they're willing to escrow funds for the project.
  • The idea here is that instead of "donating" money to a developer you "donate" the money to some company/organization and that company/organization HIRES/CONTRACTS with some programmers to make a product. That way

    1) The programmer does not get paid unless he completes the work

    2) The equipment and info (like the IrDA documentation) become property of the organization so that if a particular programmer doesn't get the job done the organization can collect the loaned equipment and documentation and give them to another developer

    3) The organization owns it all (under similar conditions that the GPL says that the FSF owns everything that is GPLed)

    Of course the organization would still be chartered with spending the money where the donators desire.


"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas