Posts tagged ‘gittip’

I’m Not Selling Out The Gittip Dream

A couple weeks ago, I signed a contract with O’Reilly to publish a book inspired by my extremely popular Creating An Application In Kivy blog series. On Monday, I start work at Facebook, a full-time salaried position that includes a substantial raise over my last position.

Signing these two contracts, two very traditional ways of obtaining money in exchange for services, is in stark contrast to the excitement I have held for the Gittip project. I marketed (some might say ‘begged’) for Gittip contributions in return for the service I performed in writing the Kivy articles. Gittip provided; I really didn’t expect to make more than a couple dollars per week, but my current income from Gittip is over $11 per week. I’m touched and grateful for these donations, and I don’t feel I deserve them at all, considering that I’ll be spending most of my time on my new book and job for the next few months.

It would be easy to argue that Gittip has failed. If I had somehow made more money off Gittip, I might have chosen to publish a book under a creative commons license or through other platforms, rather than signing a traditional book contract. If I was making so much money off Gittip that I could have laughed off Facebook’s salary and stayed out of the horrifically over-priced silicon valley, the open source world (and Facebook’s competitors!) would certainly have benefited.

However, there is a better way to look at this. I have committed (to myself) to contribute a substantial portion of the royalties from my new book back to the Kivy team. I will naturally use Gittip to distribute these funds. I am also planning to increase my funding of other projects out of my Facebook salary, and I’ll be using Gittip to fund the Arch Linux development team (if they ever set one up on Gittip) out of the income I already make from Arch Linux Schwag.

I believe one of the biggest problems Gittip has to solve is not increasing it’s member base, but increasing the amount of money being injected into the system. If small tips are just moving from one open source developer to another and back again (I’ve gotten into the unfortunate habit of regifting everything I make plus a few dollars), the money really has no value. It is a small gesture, but it’s not something that can be turned into food on the table if everyone just turns around and gives it away. I would definitely like to live a life, someday, where my writing and coding activities are exciting enough to the world that my entire salary comes from Gittip. However, I think the best thing I can do for the tool right now is to put money in, rather than take it out.

So no, Gittip has not failed me. It is succeeding in a different way from what I originally anticipated. Nor am I selling out. I am excited and passionate about my current and future prospects. Gittip was designed to allow content creators to pursue their passions. I’m able to do that within the traditional framework. I’m very lucky to be able to express my gratitude for my current life in the form of microdonations to other developers.

Arch Linux Community on Gittip

I’d like to invite members of the Arch Linux community to join the new Gittip Community I set up for Arch Linux. Communities are a great idea that helps make Gittip more global and more local at the same time.

Gittip is a platform to use generosity to crowdfund kickass content creators, from musicians to artists authors (like me) to developers like these. The communities feature allows us to see what other Archers are doing for their distro.

I want to strongly encourage our developers, Trusted Users, and even the retirees (including me) to join the community so we can start funding you. As Arch Schwag maintainer, I — perhaps more than anyone — know just how generous this community is with both their time and their money. Let’s start sharing our money with those users who are willing to share their time with us.

Arch devs are a pretty humble bunch, for the most part who might not think they deserve funding. So please encourage them to set up gittip profiles so that we can tip them. Over time, I hope some of them will be earning enough from gittip to take some time from their day jobs and help Arch improve at an even faster, bleeding edge pace.

Finally, I’d like to note that Chad Whitacre, founder of gittip has mentioned a plan to support funds, a way to tip entire organizations or communities such that the funds are distributed by the crowd. When this is implemented, I intend to donate Arch Linux Schwag income to this vessel, rather than through the Arch Linux donations page, as I have done for years. The Arch Schwag funds are not actually terribly useful to the project, aside from offsetting server costs and the like. I believe that tipping our developers directly will be much more beneficial to the project. Indeed, I can imagine the Arch Linux team funneling some of the donation money back into the gittip community in the future.

Guido Van Rossum Should Retire (and focus on python)

At the two previous Pycons I’ve attended (2009 and 2012), Guido Van Rossum’s keynotes sounded bored and uninterested, even though the content was meaningful. I was actually wondering if this would be the year that he would step down from BDFL of Python. Thankfully, I was dead wrong.

Instead, he presented a highly technical and very exciting addition to the Python language. Alfredo told me this started when he took a month off between stepping down at Google and starting at DropBox. Now, when normal people take a month off, they relax or travel or visit friends and family. Not our BDFL. He writes a callback-free asynchronous event loop API and reference implementation that is expected to massively alleviate Python’s oft-maligned lack of a consistent, unhackish concurrency solution.

Let’s have more of that. What if Mr. Van Rossum could hack on Python full time? Would we see quantum progress in Python every month?

Anyone who knows about the Gittip project likely thinks they can guess where this is going. We, the people, can each tip our BDFL a few cents or dollars per week so he can focus on whatever he deems worthy. It’s safe to assume that a man who spends his vacation time drafting a new Python library would choose to work on Python full time if we funded him.

This plan is great, and I actually think that Guido could easily earn enough to quit his day job if he endorsed Gittip and invited individuals to tip him. But I’d like to discuss a different plan: Not individuals, but companies should tip Guido the maximum gittip amount as a sort of “partial salary”. At $1248 per year, most companies wouldn’t even notice this expense, and they would get a better programming language and standard library in return. The rate of accelerated development would be even higher if each of these companies chose to invest an entire salary, split between a hundred Python core and library developers. If a hundred companies chose to do this, those hundred people could work on Python full time. The language and library would improve so vastly and so rapidly that the return on investment for each of those companies would be far greater than if they had paid that same salary to a single developer working on their in-house product, full time.

It might take some convincing to justify such a strategy to these corporations. Companies tend to like to know what is happening to their money, and simply throwing a hefty developer salary at Gittip would be hard to justify. Obviously “goodwill” could support some of it, in the same way that so many companies sponsored Pycon in exchange for exposure.

Cutthroat CEOs should perhaps consider not just the value that having Guido working exclusively on Python is, but also the cost of having him work for the competition. I’m sure Box.com CEO Aaron Levie was a little nervous when he found out that the first and greatest Python programmer of all time had recently hired on at a major competitor. Perhaps Box.com can’t afford to steal Guido from Dropbox, but if all the companies currently involved in cloud storage were to tip Guido $24 per week on Gittip, this incredible programmer could be working on an open source product that directly and indirectly benefits their company rather than improving the competing product on a full-time basis.

Most of the arguments that Gittip will fail are based on the premise that not enough money can be injected into the platform to sustain full time development by open source programmers. However, if an open and caring relationship can be built such that the corporate world is also funding the system, I think it can become extremely successful. Everyone will benefit: Open source projects will improve at a rapid pace. Exceptional developers will get to pursue their passions. End users will get better products. The overall level of happiness in the world will be higher.

I would like to see a world where brilliant young software engineers are not risking their mental health (and consequently, their lives) on startup ideas in the hopes of being bought out for a few billion dollars. I would like to see a world where those engineers are not working for large corporations that have neither their employees nor their end users (but rather, their stockholders and advertisers) interests at heart. I would like to see a world where those developers can choose to invest their passion in open source products that will change the world.

The Economics Of Cooperation

I’d like to spread the word about a project that has the goal of allowing open source developers to focus on the projects they have passion for.

Gittip allows people to set up recurring payments to specific programmers to encourage them to work on whatever projects they are passionate about. The long term idea is that maybe these developers could quit their day jobs working for companies that pay well but don’t necessarily produce products they are fascinated with, and spend their time on whatever open source project is currently taking their fancy. This model has been used somewhat effectively for a few projects such as the massively successful kickstarter project for Diaspora (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/196017994/diaspora-the-personally-controlled-do-it-all-distr) or the donation bars for PyPy development (http://pypy.org/). However, the simple fact is that most open source developers are either a) paid by companies that have ulterior motives or b) working on open source projects only in their free time.

Gittip was developed by one of my favourite coworkers. He’s leaving a kickass job at our company because he believes that the world can be made more personal. I am writing this article, on my own initiative and not at his request, to support that goal. Perhaps I, too, one day, will be able to return to open source development and focus on my passions.

Instead of paying Google to pay it’s developers to make awesome stuff for us (and allowing Google’s wealthy shareholders — who did nothing — to skim a little off the top), we can pay developers directly. Google employees have a pretty awesome life, but they still have to spend 80% of their time working on Google products. We can make them happier by allowing them to quit Google and focus on their passions. And they can make us happier by creating brilliant products for us without having to sell our souls and personal data to use it. This story, of course, could apply to every software company and any brilliant open source developer out there today.

Gittip reminds me of a project I developed a few years ago called Arch Bounty (http://archlinux.me/dusty/2009/09/07/introducing-arch-bounty/). Arch Bounty failed before it got off the ground, partially because Arch itself wasn’t big enough to support it, partially because I failed to promote it, and partially because I didn’t do a good job of explaining what kinds of projects would be suitable for it. I hope Gittip does better.

I am fascinated by how effective cooperative communities can be. I love how my tiniest contributions to Arch Linux are paid in full by the tiny contributions of numerous other users. I love how hosting one person in the Couch Surfing community gives me the chance to stay anywhere in the world and meet wonderful people.

And yet, I am saddened by the way consumerism is able to overwhelm many similar communities. Google is very intent on making Mozilla irrelevant. We are socially conditioned to compete for resources instead of cooperating to build shared resources that benefit each of us more than individual competition could ever pay off.

Cooperation and competition need not be mutually exclusive. When I play ultimate, twice a week, I have a very strong competitive desire, as do my teammates and opponents. However, we have a culture of cheering good plays, regardless of which team makes them, and commiserating with missed opportunities. When two of us are competing for the disc, we’ll high five each other for having made a good run, regardless of who caught it. The world would be a better place if this cooperative-competitive culture could be applied universally. If we could all be attempting to excel at our individual passions, while also nourishing and encouraging others in their pursuits. I believe this dual nature can be applied to the marketplace. Everyone talks about the relative merits and problems with capitalism vs communism. Both systems seem to have fatal flaws over the last hundred years. What if we had both?

Can such a coopero-competitive culture be financially stable? A successful Gittip would be a great first step. I encourage you to discover the github username of your favourite Arch Linux developers and make a small weekly contribution. It would be amazing if enough of us could do this to motivate even one developer to quit his day job and work on Arch full time. Is it possible?

Yes.