36. Supporting Open Source through Open Collective
Sep 23, 2019
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Chris Castle, developer advocate at Heroku, sits down with several individuals working towards making the lives of open source maintainers a little easier: Josh Simmons is the VP of the Open Source Initiative and a Senior Open Source Strategist at Salesforce; Joe Kutner works on open source programs at Heroku; and Pia Mancini, is the co-founder and CEO of Open Collective, a platform that gets funding from companies and individuals and disperses it to the open source projects they use, without those projects needing to have their own business bank account.

The issues involved with financing open source projects are two-fold: first, there's the challenge of actually collecting money from corporations profiting off of open source developers' free time; and after that, actually sorting out how to disperse these funds to contributors. Pia provides an example of the struggle of a Ukranian developer invoicing a company and receiving compensation from a U.S. bank account. Open Collective's goal is to solve both of these problems, by connecting funders with projects, and handling all of the messy paperwork involved as a consequence.

Josh and Joe both point out that the strategy isn't just to provide a monthly donation charge, either. Funds can be allocated to support bug bounty programs, where security experts not necessarily involved in a project can participate and receive pay-outs. That's necessary work that a maintainer might not necessarily think about organizing, and which definitely benefits the project.

The Open Collective provides two other services within its umbrella. BackYourStack is a website which will scan the public repositories of a GitHub organization, and identifies which dependencies are part of the collective, such that companies can fairly sponsor projects they didn't even know they depended on. Gift Cards is an opportunity for companies to provide gift cards to their engineers, who then in turn give those to maintainers who they acknowledge as being tremendously helpful. This places the decision making for sponsorship on the developers who most often interact with other open source developers .

The episode concludes with a foray into issues beyond financing, specifically a maintainers' well being. Open source isn't just about creating software; you've got to also delve into issues, identify what's important, have discussions, and sometimes, fend off abuse from users' unreasonable expectations. Josh explicitly mentions Open Sourcing Mental Illness as a resource for assisting individuals experiencing burnout. The Open Collective is also exploring ways in which to assist maintainers with tasks such as triaging issues or updating documentation.

Links from this episode

  • Open Collective accepts corporate sponsorships and distributes funds to open source communities
  • Open Source Initiative has been promoted adoption of open source technologies since 1998
  • BackYourStack scans your organization and GitHub, and tells you which projects are seeking funding throughout Open Collective
  • Gift Cards from the Open Collective allow employees of companies using open source projects to support maintainers directly
  • Open Sourcing Mental Illness, provides resources to support mental wellness in the tech and open source communities
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