FLOSS Fund Proposal.

The KWLUG FLOSS Fund

FLOSS Fund Logo

Motivation: Teeth and Software

Pause for a moment to reflect upon our humble teeth. Teeth make it possible for us to chew all kinds of tough foods from carrots to walnuts, making our lives better and more flavourful. It's possible to get by without teeth (and some unfortunate people do) but it is not pleasant.

Unfortunately, some of us take our teeth for granted, even though we depend on them every day. Maybe we don't floss as often as we should, or we neglect annual checkups at the dentist. To some degree we can get away with this: teeth are pretty strong, and it takes years of neglect for them to develop significant damage and drop out. In the busy hustle-and-bustle of life, we forget about our teeth until it's too late. Then we get cavities or our teeth fall out, and we are sorry.

We think free/liberated/open source software is a lot like teeth. An abundance of free software makes it possible for us to do all kinds of tasks from accounting to 3D animation, making our lives better and more productive. It's possible to get by without free software (and some unfortunate people do) but it is not pleasant.

Unfortunately, some of us take our free software for granted, even though we use it (and some of us make our livings from it) every day. Maybe we don't support free software developers as often as we should, or we neglect sending thank-you notes to great projects. To some degree we can get away with this: free software is pretty strong, and it takes years of neglect for developers to get sick of the process and drop out. In the busy hustle-and-bustle of life, we forget about our free software until it's too late. Then fewer developers are willing to create and maintain free software projects, and we are sorry.

The FLOSS Fund attempts to address free software neglect by providing a structured way for LUG members to express appreciation and support for their favourite free software. Each month, members make voluntary contributions to a software project, and then we send off those contributions to the developers to show our appreciation for their hard work.

How it works

LUG members start the process by submitting information about projects they would like to consider for a contribution. Here is the required information:

  • The name of the project, and its URL
  • A short description of what makes this project cool, and why it is
    worth supporting.
  • Contact information for the project developers.
  • Verification that we can give this project money.

Each month, we pick one of the eligible projects and collectively show our appreciation for that project.

Making contributions

To keep paperwork down, the FLOSS Fund is run by a shadowy secret cabal, which is not officially endorsed by KWLUG. Currently, the cabal consists of the following members:

  • Andrew Cant
  • Adam Glauser [ adamglauser at the domain wlualumni dot ca ]
  • Paul Nijjar [ pnijjar at the domain alumni dot uwaterloo.ca ]

KWLUG members (and other interested parties) contribute to the fund by giving money to members of the cabal.

People can make financial donations in a number of ways:

  • At each KWLUG meeting, there is a "FLOSS Fund Fishbowl", into which people can drop contributions anonymously.

  • People can contact cabal members and make one-time donations to that month's project.

One week after each meeting, cabal members total up the money for that month, and then make contributions to the month's software project accordingly. Then the LUG chooses another project and the process starts again.

Project Selection

Every nominated project that passes the above criteria goes into a list maintained by Andrew, which you can visit here. This queue has two parts:

  • The first part is a queue for currently-active submissions. Every KWLUG member can have one project in this queue. It is first-come, first-serve.

  • Projects that cannot be in the first queue because their nominators have another currently-active submission go into a second, waiting-list queue.

Here's an example. Say the two queues look like the following:

Active Queue                Waiting-List Queue
------------                ------------------
0. OpenOffice - George      0. Inkscape - Alice
1. Mozilla - Alice          1. VideoLinux - Alice 
2. GNU Screen - Susan       2. Tuxracer - George
3. SAMBA - Fred

The project for the next month would then be OpenOffice. After this project was selected, the queues would be as follows:

Active Queue                Waiting-List Queue
------------                ------------------
0. Mozilla - Alice          0. Inkscape - Alice
1. GNU Screen - Susan       1. VideoLinux - Alice 
2. SAMBA - Fred
3. Tuxracer - George

This month, there are four new submissions: Susan nominates the Free Software Foundation (FSF), Ward nominates Black Hat Linux and then Tuxpaint, and Melinda nominates OpenOffice again. OpenOffice is ineligible for 12 months because it has just been accepted, so the queues look as follows:

Active Queue                Waiting-List Queue
------------                ------------------
0. Mozilla - Alice          0. Inkscape - Alice
1. GNU Screen - Susan       1. VideoLinux - Alice 
2. SAMBA - Fred             2. FSF - Susan 
3. Tuxracer - George        3. Tuxpaint - Ward
4. Black Hat Linux - Ward

This system gives as many people as possible the opportunity to make submissions, while being fair to those who have lots of ideas.

Note that the order of nominations is ultimately at the whim of the shadowy cabal. They can override the above rules for any reason, including but not limited to going mad with power. (So much for the Magna Carta...)

Simplifying Assumptions

For now, we are going to make the following simplifying assumptions:

  • We will only give to projects that accept money. We hope this will change as the Fund becomes more established.

  • For now most of the decisions will be made in meetings.

  • For now (and until further notice) we will not use the website to vote for nominated projects. We will pick projects some other way.

Questions and Concerns

Do I have to contribute money in order to be a member of the LUG?

Absolutely not. Participation in the FLOSS Fund is completely and totally voluntary, and the LUG works hard to make sure people do not feel pressured into donating.

There are too many software projects! How can you cover them all?

We can't. This approach keeps the number of target projects down to a managable level. That means a lot of good projects will get left out.

(Incidentally, counting the number of great free software projects you use is a great way to appreciate the great value free software contributes to your life.)

Money is icky and will destroy the LUG!

You might be right. We are trying to keep money as far away from the LUG administration as possible, and we are trying to structure contributions to minimize headaches and stress. In particular, we want to avoid having elections and constitutions and whatnot just because we collect money. That is why the FLOSS Fund is informal and run by a shadowy secret cabal.

However, if we find that the Fund is having a detrimental effect on the LUG, it will be time to drop the project like a CD full of pirated proprietary software.

Money is icky and will destroy Free Software!

You might be right. Certainly, some people feel that free software should be written only on a volunteer basis. If you share that feeling, then you have no obligation to participate in the Fund's activities.

However, many projects do solicit money. They look for money to help cover costs (of project hosting or hardware, for example) or to help the developers make a living. We do not expect that the FLOSS Fund will pay anybody's salary, but maybe it will help a little. More importantly, it will help remind developers that we value their efforts, and that they are not going unnoticed.

It is clear that free software benefits many people, which means in some sense it contributes a lot of value to society. But because most free software can be downloaded and copied for free, its market price is close to zero. Does that mean it is illegitimate for people to want to make money by writing free software? If so, less free software will be written when those developers go off to paying jobs writing Visual Basic scripts or whatever else will earn them a higher return on the market.

Are those of us who love Free Software happy with that outcome? If not, then we need to find ways to reward developers so they keep writing great software. The FLOSS Fund is one such attempt. It may fail, but it is better than doing nothing.

People should donate time and effort, not money!

People should absolutely donate time and effort to software projects. The continued contributions of programming, documenting, testing, and using software is a big reason why free software is so useful, and losing the Do-It-Yourself nature of free software to strictly monetized relationships would be a huge loss. However, our hope is that financial contributions can be a component of the free software ecosystem without destroying it.

Some developers don't want to take money!

Certainly, many free software developers have no expectations for financial compensation. They write software out of love and to give back to a movement that has given them so much. That is healthy, and we want to encourage that as much as possible.

In addition, even developers who might want to be rewarded for writing
free software find that money is icky, and that it is a real pain for
them to take cash. That's why the Fund might give non-monetary gifts
in the future.

In addition to the FLOSS Fund, KWLUG members are showing their appreciation for software projects with other tokens of appreciation, such as Valentine's Day cards and love letters.

I don't like the projects that are selected!

Then don't contribute. Contributions are voluntary, and the existence of the FLOSS Fund does not preclude you from making donations on your own initiative. You can also nominate projects that you do like so maybe they will be selected in the future.

I donated some money. This means I get technical support and my favourite features added to the software, right?

Wrong. The FLOSS Fund is not a bounty system, and it is not a support contract. If you would like to pay for technical support or feature requests, you should contact the project developers directly.

Why should I donate money if I don't get technical support or features added?

The purpose of the FLOSS Fund is to reward software that has already been written. Does that sound strange? It shouldn't. To use commercial proprietary software you often have to pay money before you have even used the product. With trialware and freeware you might get to evaluate the product before paying for it, but there are strings attached.

With most free software, you can download the software and use it forever. You can make copies of it, fix bugs, study the source code, and make derivative products. That seems valuable -- but there is no convenient point where you are obligated to pay for the software. The FLOSS Fund does not provide an obligation, but an opportunity: giving to the Fund is one (but not the only) way to "complete the transaction".

I pay for software distributions already! Isn't that enough?

Purchasing software distributions is a good way to reward the people who package software and collect it in one convenient place. Sometimes, distributions do pay software developers to develop and maintain free software, so in that way you are contributing to software development.

However, distributions do not pay money for the majority of software they package, so even when you purchase a distro you are not ensuring that the developers of your favourite utility see any of that money. The FLOSS Fund allows you to contribute on a finer-grained level.

What guarantee do I have that my money will get to the software projects that are selected?

None. There is no guarantee. The entire fund is founded on trust. For all you know, the secret cabal might run off to Nunavut with your money -- and if they do, you shouldn't be suing the LUG.

There is some risk involved in giving to the Fund, but that is the price for keeping the system simple and informal. If you feel uncomfortable with this (or want to make some huge donation) then you might be better off contacting the program developers directly.

Having said that, there is no reason to expect that your money will not get to the projects in question. But there are no guarantees.

Donating money to buy goats and build wells for poor people is more important than donating money to free software!

In many ways you are correct. If you would prefer to donate money to other worthier causes, by all means you should do so (and some of us give money to those causes as well).

Just don't let the existence of greater suffering in the world paralyse you from giving anything to anybody. All assistance is useful.

Documentation is important, too! Why not give to documenters?

We can. There is no restriction on nominated projects other than they contribute to free software in some way.

* What about something like Project Gutenberg? *

Haven't you heard of project Foo? They're doing the same thing!

Maybe we have not heard of that project. Feel free to tell us about
it.

Note that there are a couple of things that might make the FLOSS Fund
different:

  • Unlike "Bounty sites" which collect money to develop new features
    in software, this project pays for software that is already written.

  • This project is intended to be local and LUG-centric, to take advantage of the way people already interact with their LUG. Other sites are great, but if they are standalone then they need to develop an audience that the LUG already has.

This initiative is neat! Can I start a similar project at my LUG?

Sure! We are hoping that others will follow our lead, helping to create a culture where donating to software is seen as socially acceptable.

If you do start a FLOSS Fund, contact us and we will link to your project.

Related Ideas

Perpetual giving

One idea is to set up a standalone site with hundreds of software projects listed. People sign up for the site with their credit card numbers, and choose some projects to which they would like to donate. Each month the site deducts some fixed amount from a person's card and distributes it to the projects that were chosen.

The advantage to this is that it gives money to projects every month, giving them a bit of steady income.

The disadvantage is that this setup requires a lot of work and administration, and does not focus donations so much. It also is much bigger than a single LUG could hope to manage.

My FLOSSy Valentine

In February, everybody brings in a Valentine's Day card to their favourite software projects. At the meeting we sign the cards and ship them off.

This is a good idea: it is cheap and easily implemented. It does not address the concerns of developers who want money more than Valentine's Day cards, but it is a good way to help developers feel appreciated. It doesn't even have to be in the form of cards, and need not be done on Valentine's day.

Disk of the Month

We could collect cool software and sell it. Then we could give the proceeds to free software projects.

This idea used to make a lot of sense, but in the days of apt-get, yum, emerge and fast bandwidth, it does not appear as useful as it once was. A related idea might be to sell free software compiled for non-free projects -- maybe something like The Open CD has.

T-Shirts

Instead of giving money directly, obtain and then give T-shirts and coffee beans, so that developers will have clothes to wear and coffee beans to eat.

This is a good alternative for projects that do not want to accept money. What about those that do?

Related Projects

The following projects are similar in spirit to the FLOSS Club.

HOWTO Pay for Free Software

http://users.puzzling.org/users/mary/HOWTO/Free/

This HOWTO is written and maintained by Mary Gardiner. It contains many good ideas about how to give software developers money and other resources.

Linux Fund

http://linuxfund.org

This registered charity has been raising money for open source projects since 1999. It uses credit cards and direct donations to raise money, and as of early 2009 has raised about half a million dollars in contributions to open source projects.

Flattr FOSS

Raphael Hertzog is using the Flattr micropayment site as a platform to reward open source projects. See http://raphaelhertzog.com/flattr-foss/ for more information.

Acknowledgements

The following KWLUG members contributed to the planning discussions of this project: Daniel Allen, Chris Bruner, Andrew Cant, Lloyd Carr, Robert P.J. Day, Glenn Cooke, Chris Frey, Adam Glauser, Bob Jonkman, Paul Nijjar, Kyle Spaans, Raul Suarez, Bill Switzer, Marko Vidberg, Richard Weait

The logo is a derivative work of penguin-flat.svg, copyrighted by Larry Ewing and Simon Budig. It was modified using Inkscape and The GIMP.

The sources for static logos are available: /sites/kwlug.org/files/icons-src.tgz

They are freely distributable and modifiable subject to the restrictions put in place by Ewing and Budig.

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