Funding Open Source Development
September 14, 2006 11:34 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for examples of open source projects that were funded in advance by contributions and pledges from interested users.

Some associates and I developed an award-winning niche software development tool many years ago. This tool still has a somewhat active user base, although it is no longer being commercially maintained.

We have gotten together and received rights to a portion of the tool, which we have released as open source. We'd now like to update the rest of it, all in open source. To do this, we'll need funding for a handful of people for approximately a year.

We have interest from some users who could fund a significant portion of this. We could approach more of the users directly and/or make a public appeal for fund pledges.

I am looking for models where this has been attempted in the past, both successfully and unsuccessfully.

(Note: we also have a consulting business where we use the tool ourselves. The income from that will partly fund the ongoing development, but we are looking for direct funding as well.)
posted by alms to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This is from out of the software domain, but a game designer recently implemented the 'ransom model' to fund a board game - he (they?) simply held the game (a PDF) hostage until they had what they took to be an appropriate amount of money, then released it to the benefactors. That way they could circumvent the anticipated piracy problem.

Here's a writeup. Perhaps inspiring, if not terribly informative?
posted by waxbanks at 12:06 PM on September 14, 2006

I've seen some of this happen on a small scale in the drupal world. One or two "customers" will have an idea for additons to an existing module, or perhaps an entirely new module, and will be willing to underwrite a significant portion of the work. They'll hash out the details with one of the developers in the community, who'll come up with an estimate of the cost. Then they'll take it to the larger community to see if anyone wants to chip in (with or without influence on the details of what gets built). If the remainder of the necessary funds can be raised, the work happens.

It sounds like you have a decent chance of making this go. If I were you I'd work up an overview of the features and improvements you imagine making.

Lay out a timeline for tackling the ones that are core to your consulting business based on your existing ability to fund them. Have discussions with the most serious of your users to see if they'd like to contribute money to either advance the timeline you propose, or add a new feature to the timeline. Once you've worked that out, you can approach the larger user community, and ask them for contributions towards the various features.
posted by Good Brain at 12:59 PM on September 14, 2006

Not software, but Marillion did this with one of their albums, I think.
posted by Leon at 1:28 PM on September 14, 2006

Blender was purchased for E100,000 a few years ago. This is a kind-of example where the money was fronted to buy the rights.
posted by unixrat at 1:59 PM on September 14, 2006

Registering for vim (10 euros or more) allows you to vote on the next features that will be implemented.
posted by devilsbrigade at 2:30 PM on September 14, 2006

I work with the Movable Type team, and a number of people have made plugins that work with the app that were developed on a ransom model. At least a few of those were released under an open source license.
posted by anildash at 4:46 PM on September 14, 2006

Mark Shuttleworth of Thawte renown has personally bankrolled the Ubuntu project.
posted by toastchee at 5:02 AM on September 15, 2006

Coming in a bit late here, but for things in a similar vein, you might also want to check out Open Source Bounties.
posted by jammer at 9:39 AM on September 15, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all of these references. This is good grist for the mill as we move forward with our plans.
posted by alms at 1:52 PM on September 15, 2006

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