When using open-source software (OSS), have you ever stopped to wonder about who developed it?
In 2011, Marc Andreessen used the phrase “software is eating the world” in a column to describe the way that all industries would digitize, and all businesses would become software businesses. Similarly, now, one could say “OSS is eating software” to describe the current circumstances in which building a system without using OSS has become unimaginable. However, it seems to me that until now, no one has really considered exactly who develops OSS and who bears the cost of that development.
The Cost of OSS Development
Originally, OSS developers were people in academia or people developing OSS for fun, which is likely why no one was particularly concerned with the costs involved in development. However, as commercial uses for OSS increased, so did demand for functionality and quality, and the development of OSS shifted from being conducted on a so-called volunteer-base to being a part of the regular work of engineers in businesses. This, however, is also a model in which the cost associated with developing the OSS itself is compensated in some other form. If the developed OSS itself cannot recover the costs associated with its development, the benefits for businesses are difficult to identify, and businesses will not spend human resources on the development of OSS that has no benefits for them.
A New Way of Thinking
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with people involved in some relevant, interesting work. I share my experiences below.
I spoke with Mr. Yokomizo and Mr. Sai from BoostIO. BoostIO developed Boostnote, a product similar to Evernote, and made it publicly available as an OSS. As it happens, Boostnote was received very well, and many developers contributed to it. These contributions included not only actual code, but also things such as translations. In addition, most of the contributions came from outside Japan. Currently, Mr. Yokomizo and Mr. Sai only conduct code review and deployment, and the actual development is conducted entirely by contributors. As they worked, they were able to obtain over 6,000 dollars in donations through a service called OpenCollective. In other words, this means that if you develop good software, you could possibly obtain donations for upgrading its functionality and improving its quality. Realizing this, Mr. Yokomizo and Mr. Sai decided to try making a service similar to OpenCollective themselves and created a service called “IssueHunt.”
They designed a set-up wherein, by registering a repository undergoing maintenance on GitHub with IssueHunt, the issues are automatically imported to IssueHunt, and anyone is able to donate to those issues. In this system, at least 80% (the amount is set by the repository manager) of donated money is provided to those who contribute to the issues. Thus, money is paid for contributions to OSS; for freelance engineers with confidence in their skills, this opens up the possibility that they could make a living on those contributions alone.
This was how the service was released, but it still faces some challenges. The biggest obstacle is that there are still few repositories registered on IssueHunt. In addition, they still haven’t been able to collect many donations. Other companies starting similar services are beginning to appear, so hopefully, they can coordinate with each other to spread this new development culture.