Sustaining Open Source and Ecosystems

The topic on how to value open source, and how to make sure that it can continue to thrive and work can be rewarded, is an old one. It has been heating up again recently with waves of tweetconvos, the latest being:

It seems obvious that foundational work for companies that make a ton of money from it should be rewarded. However, rewards come in many flavors, and individuals create open source works for varied reasons.

Let’s bypass the topics of “you get other rewards…” (reputation, skill, community, job possibilities, and even rare golden tickets): what role should large companies play?

Large companies should invest in projects that they get value in. There are many ways to do this and the issue of control often comes up. Are you giving money to a project, or looking to hire a particular commiter and steer their direction? When does it make sense to hire vs. pay a contract? There are trade offs for all parties when it comes to bringing someone on as an FTE: e.g. benefits and growth with the company vs the bureaucracy of performance reviews 🙂 Do you sponsor issues or interest or stay at arms reach?

If you look at the majority of large companies you will see all types of arrangements in place that depend on many particulars.

I want to focus in on a type or sponsorship that ties into the question around funding for the Babel library. I think large companies have a responsibility to help an open ecosystem, such as the Web, thrive. At Google or Facebook, we make a great living from the Web and much usage touches both companies.

It is definitely our turn to help out. The government kicked off the incubation. Vint Cerf and friends had what they needed in resource and constraints to make the Internet, open for all to build on top of. This seeded an ecosystem that allowed for many platforms and business models, all leading to today.

Now we have commercial success we need to step in to support the ecosystem. The Web still suffers from an obesity epidemic, and anyone who is helping deserves much credit. As folk invest though, we need to be very careful to do so without king making and accidentally blocking future innovation. It is easy to do damage here, but that isn’t an excuse to sit back and do nothing.

I am excited to see the conversation continue and to work together on how best to garden the special platforms that we now have. Open Collective even has a conference on the topic in June.

Whenever I think about the topic I have to admit that I end up pulling the strings that end with frustration around how we value work in the world at large, and how we do not reward for long term value (see: how we pay teachers).

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