Let's fend off Big Tech and find a way to fund FOSS we all can be fond of

Here is an incomplete, completely half-baked idea that I have been chewing on since Filippo’s call to professionalize the work of OSS maintainers. I want to share it here because (1) I think there is a good business opportunity here that could use some validation and (2) I am both an OSS project maintainer that would like to be paid for my work and I also have a business that depends on having quality open-source solutions.

The idea is to build a system where:

  • individuals are incentivized to contribute financially to OSS.
  • individuals can also promote their OSS work, without getting into a popularity contest.
  • individuals can collaborate on teams, who are self-governing.
  • companies can help contribute to many teams at the same time, without having to deal with complicated bureaucracy. Ideally they would pay one single invoice, and it would look like a service that they are paying.

Ok, are you ready?

What about a paid social network for FOSS developers?

Wait! Don’t leave. Please hear me out! I know that at first is going to sound a lot like LinkedIn, but I think we can make some twists and get something useful out of it.

We’d start with all the standard features from a social network: a profile page, a way to write posts, follow others, participate in discussions, etc. Being a social network focused on FOSS, let’s also imagine a feature where every user can have a page for their projects and that people can organize themselves in teams.

Still too much like LinkedIn? Let’s also consider a Patreon-style sponsorship program. Any team or project can offer special rewards or exclusive products for other users who back them directly.

Ok, it is still pretty standard. But let’s add the first couple of twists:

  • access to the website is obtained through a membership of $3-5/month.
  • all revenue from users is earmarked for the “Developers Fund”, which is paid out on a monthly basis to all teams based on Quadratic Voting

You will need millions of users just to get any decent revenue, you are going to say… which gets to second leg of this monster we are creating.

A suite of services for companies

Companies would certainly be interested in having access to this potential qualified userbase. There are a good amount of services that could be provided for them.

  • A Job board. To keep with the OSS theme, we could make it that companies could pay a $ X00 month to post as many OSS jobs they want, or they could pay twice as much individual non-OSS job listing. Now that StackOverflow has moved out of the job listing market, there is some room for such an offering.

  • Ads. Companies could be interested in promoting their products, developer conferences, run a focus group, etc. As long as the ads are not privacy-invasive, they are acceptable.

There is also nothing stopping companies to use the platform to create grant programs, become “official sponsors” of a project or a team or create hackathons that pay meaningful prizes.

The important thing however is that it is the revenue from the services paid by the companies is what can turn this into a proper business. Of course part of this revenue could (and should) go to the Developers Fund, but my guess is that if you keep it lean your operating costs can be quite low. There is also the chance of turning such a venture into a proper 503 Foundation, which could not only bring tax benefits but also become an alternative to those who are tired of the FSF current actions and outdated leadership.

Let me know your thoughts

Like I said, these are just some ideas that I have been trying to develop further. You can comment on Hacker News and I hope to update this page with anything that comes up.