Gittip is a community of people building the Commons. This is the third post in a series called “Back the Stack,” where we highlight free software developers whom you can support through Gittip.
From 2008 to 2011, I was extremely lucky. I had an employer—Hunted Media—who not only encouraged my open source contributions, but actively supported them. They sponsored my conference trips, and acknowledged that part of the deal when you hired a prominent open source contributor was giving them the flexibility to spend some of their time working on open source. As a result, I was in a position to make significant contributions to Django 1.0 and 1.1, and to shepherd the Django 1.2 and 1.3 release cycles.
In 2011, I left Hunted Media to pursue my own projects. The biggest casualty of this move was my contribution to Django. My contributions to Django didn’t wane because I lost interest. I simply couldn’t affort to spend as much time as I had previously spent working on Django.
This is something I’d like to change.
One option would be to find another employer like Hunted who would let me contribute to Django as part of my job. However, I think Gittip provides the glimpse of something that has the potential to be much better.
Unless you’re extremely disciplined, commercial pressures will almost always take precedence over volunteer contributions. If an open source project is managed using resources stitched together from pieces of spare corporate and personal time, it is possible to achieve great things—the panoply of successful open source projects is proof of that. But if open source projects had the full-time attention of developers, we could achieve so much more.
One way to make this happen would be to call on large corporations to donate to the long term development and maintenance of the open source products they use. However, getting large corporations to donate isn’t easy. Altruism isn’t easy to explain on a corporate balance sheet, especially if company funds are already spread thin.
Gittip provides an alternative: Rather than calling for a small number of large donations, it aims to raise a large number of small donations. And instead of trying to convince large corporations to give, it calls on the people who ultimately benefit from the availability of open source—the community of developers whose professional lives are made better through access to world class, user-modifiable tools, made available at zero cost. If everyone who benefits from open source was to contribute a little bit, we’d be able to guarantee the full-time support and development of the tools we love, and no one individual would be significantly out of pocket.
My professional career has been made immeasurably better through the availability of free tools like Linux, Apache, mod_wsgi, Python, PostgreSQL, Memcached,… the list goes on. I hope that in some small way, my volunteered efforts on Django have, in turn, improved the lives of others. I would like to be in a position where the improvement of the tools I love to use isn’t constrained by the availability of volunteered time; and in turn, I’d like to be in a position to personally guarantee the future support and development of Django.
For me, Gittip could make it financially viable to make that guarantee—and do so in a way that is well aligned with the community- driven principles that have made the open source toolchain so great. Open source has always had a bright future, but with community-backed financial resources—the future could be even brighter.