In “Gittip, Year Two,” I concluded that Gittip works, but not yet for Gittip. We know that it’s possible to use Gittip to make a sustainable living. We know that Gittip can enable amazing work. The question is, can we sustain Gittip itself through voluntary payments from our users? Can we fund Gittip on Gittip? So far the answer is, “No.” Gittip makes about $470 per week, which is about $2,000 per month, or $24,000 per year. We are not a sustainable business.
Wikipedia is the best example of an organization that successfully funds itself by asking its users to voluntarily pay for the service, through their familiar annual fundraiser. Taking a cue from them, we’ve added a Wikipedia-style appeal to Gittip. Here’s what it looks like:
We show this message to active users of Gittip who don’t give to Gittip. You won’t see it otherwise. The specific dollar amounts are scoped to your usage of the platform; our suggestions are also reflected on our new Pricing page. Feel free to choose a different amount, or to opt out if you prefer.
We hope to encourage active users to pay for using Gittip, so that we can survive and thrive as an open company. If we can figure out the formula for ourselves, then we can help other open companies building open products to be funded along the same lines. Eventually, we want Gittip to be a place you can go to find a whole range of open companies to work for and make a living from. Our mission is to enable an economy based on gratitude, generosity, and love, where we all share our work and wealth and lives with each other voluntarily and abundantly. From what I can tell so far, it’s really fun! :D
Will you help us?
Chad Whitacre is the founder of Gittip.
Every Thursday, we charge credit cards, shuffle the money around inside Gittip, and deposit money to bank accounts. We call this “payday.” It’s really the core of Gittip, and the process hasn’t been substantially refactored since we launched over two years ago.
For the past two months we’ve been working on a rewrite of the payday algorithm that addresses a number of under-the-hood issues. Payday is now safer and faster.
The most visible user-facing change is that now, if you’re both giving and receiving money on Gittip, we’ll only charge your credit card for the difference. Before, we were charging you the whole amount of your gifts even if you were also receiving money, which was confusing and also wasted money in credit card fees.
This has been a significant engineering effort for our team, which is still very much in the bootstrapping phase. In fact, we think of ourselves as “double-bootstrapping,” since we’re trying to fund ourselves on the very platform we’re building. In particular I’d like to thank Changaco for all of his hard work on this payday rewrite and many other parts of Gittip.
Now would be a good time to double-check your history page on Gittip. If you see something wrong or confusing, please let us know either privately by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or publicly on Twitter or GitHub.
Thanks for using Gittip!
Chad Whitacre is the founder of Gittip.
When I launched Gittip over two years ago, one of my goals for the homepage was to quickly answer the question, “Does Gittip actually work? Is anyone making any money here?” I decided to add a leaderboard showing the top receivers on the site so anyone could see for themselves.
Within weeks it became apparent that the leaderboards were going to be contentious, and indeed they have been over the years. Gittip is about collaboration, but the leaderboards on the homepage lent the site an air of competition.
Yesterday, we launched a new homepage. It’s a much simpler introduction to Gittip, with a straightforward call to action: Sign in to accept payments! For those who aren’t ready to sign in, we provide a link to our About pages as a secondary call to action, and other potentially interesting pointers in the fine print. Once you’re signed in, the homepage shows a simple “Welcome back!” and a link to your profile. In the future we’ll be making the homepage more dynamic for signed-in users.
The community pages still have leaderboards for now, but we’re planning to remove them from there as well. We have conversations going about what behaviors we want to encourage on Gittip, and how to use the community pages to do that. We’re also talking about how to provide value for companies that have been using their place on the Gittip homepage as a form of advertising.
Gittip’s Teams feature enables the distribution of funds each week among members of a team. During last week’s payday, two bugs in the algorithm for distributing team funds led to overpayments to 55 members across 21 teams, totaling $141.34. Most of this was for the Gittip and Aspen teams: $124.56 (88%) to 13 members (62%). Additionally, funds (less than $2) were not distributed at all to eight members across three teams.
The payday algorithm runs in three loops: payin, pachinko, and payout. Pachinko is where the team distribution happens. Payday crashed twice during the pachinko loop due to bugs in the pachinko algorithm. After the second crash, we decided to skip the pachinko loop entirely and proceed directly to the payout loop. We took this decision on the understanding that the dollar amounts involved with teams is relatively small, so the risk of needing to do a major correction was low, and we were under time pressure to submit payouts for the day to our processor, Balanced Payments.
Since most of the money involved in the error was for the Gittip and Aspen teams and the effect on other teams was so small, we decided to let the overpayments stand. This amounts to an extra payment from the teams in question to their members.
For further details please see this GitHub issue.
One of Gittip’s core values is a love of self-critique, so as we watch the story unfold of Julie Ann Horvath’s harassment while at GitHub, we thought it an appropriate response to ask ourselves, “In what ways is Gittip at risk of enabling harassment?”
We are an open company, which for us means that we share as much as possible, charge as little as possible, and fund ourselves openly on Gittip itself. In fact, our purpose in helping drive the open company movement is precisely to address the root causes of social ills such as harassment. GitHub’s fall from grace is so sad because it’s so predictable: it’s simply too easy for harassment to fester behind closed doors. Open the doors! Fresh air! Fresh air! Many eyes make bugs shallow, both in code and in culture.
Speaking personally as someone who ticks all the standard boxes of privilege (straight white male, etc.), knowing that my conversations and interactions are public helps me pay more attention to what I’m saying and doing. Why do I want to pay attention to my words and behavior? Not, I hope, out of fear of reprisal (whether in court or on social media). I want to avoid bullying and harassing others out of love. I want my avoidance of harassment to be a byproduct of my pursuit of positive relationships with everyone I interact with.
But open companies, like open source, are not magic pixie dust. One lesson we’re taking away from GitHub is that a flat organizational structure has challenges. There may be no clear path or authority figure to go to for conflict resolution. Combined with “hidden structure” (re: Valve), the lack of conflict resolution pathways especially hurts those most in need, those without power. Of course, traditional HR departments have their own issues. Ideally they are an objective third party to resolve conflict, but to the cynic they exist to limit the company’s exposure to lawsuits. GitHub’s most recent statement suggests this approach.
GitHub is a fantastic and inspiring product, and we heavily depend on it in building Gittip. We pay GitHub $25 a month, mostly because we believe in paying for the products and services we use (we do use private repos as part of our security issue workflow). We haven’t yet used a purchasing decision as activism, and it’s not obvious to us that this is the time to start. For now, we’re keeping our repos at GitHub.
As this story unfolds, we’ll keep asking ourselves whether we need to vote with our dollars, and as we grow as a company we’ll keep an eye out for policies Gittip needs in order to resolve conflict early, and to properly handle harassment when it comes to that.
Chad Whitacre is the founder of Gittip.