Open source and money – why paying R developers might not always help the project

This post can be summed up by one two sentences: We can’t buy love.” “Starting to pay for love could make it disappear” while at the same time “We need money to live and love”. These two conflicting forces, with relation to open source, are the topic of this post.

This post is directed to the community of R users but is relevant to people of all open source projects. It deals with the question of open source projects and funding. Specifically, should a community of open source developers and users, once it exists, want to start raising/donating money to the main code contributers?

The conflict arises when, on the one side, we intuitively wish to repay the people who have helped us but worry of the implications of behavioral studies that suggests that doing so might destroy the motivation of the developers to continue working without contently getting payed, and that making the shift from doing something for one reason (whatever it is) to doing it for money, might not easily be turned back.
On the other side, developers needs to make a (good) living, and we (as a community) should strive for them to be well payed.
How can these two be reconciled?

This article won’t offer a decisive conclusions – and my hope is to invite discussion on the matter (from both amatures and professionals in the field of open source and behavioral economics) so to give more ideas for people to base their opinions on.

Update: this post was substantially updated from it’s original version, thanks to responses both in the comments, and especially in the e-mails. I apologies for writing a post that had needed so many corrections, and at the same time I am grateful for all the people who took the time to shed light in places where I was wrong.

* * * *

Motivation: R has issues – how do we get them fixed?

In the past two weeks there has been a raging debate regarding the future of R (hint: “what is R“). Without going deeper into the topic (I already wrote about it here, where you too can go and respond), I’ll sum up the issue with a quote from Ross Ihaka (one of the two founders of R) who recently wrote:

I’ve been worried for some time that R isn’t going to provide the base that we’re going to need for statistical computation in the future. (It may well be that the future is already upon us.) There are certainly efficiency problems (speed and memory use), but there are more fundamental issues too. Some of these were inherited from S and some are peculiar to R.

After this, several discussion threads where started around the web (for example: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 ,5, 6 ), but then a comment was made in the R-help mailing list by Jaroslaw Piskorski who wrote:

A few days ago Tal Galili posted a message about some controversies concerning the future of R. Having read the discussions, especially those following Ross Ihaka’s post, I have come to the conclusion, that, as usual, the problem is money. I doubt there would be discussions about dropping R in its present form if the R-Foundation were properly funded and could hire computer scientists, programmers and statisticians. If a commercial company is able to provide big-database and multicore solutions, then so would a properly founded R-Foundation.

To which my response is that: I strongly disagree with this statement..
That is, I do agree that money could help with things. It could be that money could be a part of the solution. But I doubt that the core of this problem is money. Nor that it would be solved if we could only now hire “computer scientists, programmers and statisticians” (although that could be part of the solution).

And the reason I am doubtful stems from two sources:

1. Motivation in general – and money

The first reason is presented in the following short (~10 minutes) video titled “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”, adapted from Dan Pink’s talk at the RSA.
This talk dicusses what motivates us, and also about what (surprisingly) doesn’t motivate us: money. What does? watch the talk (it’s fun):

2. The split personality of open-source developers: Social Norms vs Market Norms

The second concern I have comes after reading Dan Ariely’s great book “Predictably Irrational”. In chapter 4, Ariely makes the distinction between (what he terms) “Social Norms” and “Market Norms”. You can listen to him talk about it in the following (~4 minutes) video:

Another example of what is said in this video is an experiment Dan made where he took three groups for a 5-minute task on a computer, dragging circles into a square. One group did it as a favor to the experimenter, one group was paid $5 and the third group was paid 50 cents. The 50-cent group was less productive than the $5 group. But the people who did the task as a favor were the most productive of all! In case this artificial experiment is not convincing, Dan also gave real-life examples, including military service and the pro bono work of lawyers.

In our case, we can often teach R in the University or use it to solve real world problems while getting paid (and being expected to be paid), but at the same time we ask and give help (answering questions and programming) online (and offline with friends) for free. We are walking a thin line of keeping a psychological balance here. Ariely wrote that:

When a social norm collides with a market norm, the social norm goes away for a long time. In other words, social relationships are not easy to reestablish.

And as Stormy Peters (executive director of the GNOME Foundation) wrote:

One of the things about the open source community that continues to baffle those non-open source people is, “why do you do it?” Open source developers work on open source software for a number of reasons from scratching an itch to gaining a reputation to building a resume to contributing to a good cause.

The interesting problem comes when money enters into the equation. Research shows that when someone works on something for free (for internal rewards) if you start paying them you replace those internal rewards. Then if you stop paying them, they will stop working on it. Does that hold true for open source software? Are commercial companies killing open source by paying people to work on it?

Or said differently (and elsewhere):

Once you are paid to work on open source software, it would be hard to go back to doing it for free.

Hence my question (and fear): Would starting to pay people in the R community (who by now where working for free) to work on R (a free open source project) – will end up killing it?

So can we pay open source developers?

Let’s be clear here – we can pay open source developers, but this includes the risk of later loosing them from the community. Would this always be the case – I don’t know (hence the room for discussion at the end of the post).

The answer: Love
One thing I do believe we should do is to be grateful: Send developers kind e-mails, buy their books, link to their blogs/home-pages – show them we love their work. Why am I using the “L” word? Because open source is (as Clay Shirky convinced me in his ~9 minutes video) is about Love:

And in the context of R:
The quality of R would not have been made possible even if all the people who have worked for it where to pay the developers from day 1. I am saying this again: If we where forced to pay to have R developed for us, it would have been more expansive then we could have been able to ever afford (under market norms). Since some of the best statisticians in the world (please correct me if I am wrong), have spent countless hours (days/months/years) to make this software work and support it’s user base, can you imagine how much money that would have cost?

So is money evil for open source?

Answer (IMHO): no!

Money, like a knife, is a tool – not good nor evil.

On the one hand, switching from community appreciation to rewarding with money might turn out to be a dangerous path for the future of R.

At the same time I believe (and I am willing to be proven wrong) that we SHOULD get money collected to our community, and that we should use it to pay people outside our community: graphic designers, UI people, CS students (who are not very deep into the R world), grants for young students and maybe even paying the R developers core team. My current rule of thumb will be that money should be used only mostly to get skills that are outside of our current community base.

Learning from the experience of other FOSS projects

The questions this post reflects upon are relatively new to us (e.g: how to scale up social relationships in collaboration projects). One of our best sources for solutions is probably the experience of other open source projects. While history may not predict our future, it can still give us ideas and even inspire us of what can be done.

I hope to link here to posts on the topic, if you have any, please link to them in the comments.

(Originally I wrote about WordPress, but after getting responses from some friends closer to the core team – I decided to remove that section so to not misinform people)

I’ll conclude

I don’t think R developers should be paid. (this is not exact and I erased this sentence)
I believe money should be collected by the community for the community.
Paying R developers is tricky, I don’t know how it can be done in a healthy and stable way (although I believe it can be done).
A good strategy for spending community’s money could be to pay for services that are outside our community knowledge/skill base.

Your opinions are welcomed.

  • http://www.daemonology.net/blog/ Colin Percival

    “Send developers kind e-mails, buy their books, link to their blogs/home-pages”

    Sending them free stuff from your company is also good. After my post on this topic (“A call for schwag”) I was sent 4 t-shirts, a hoodie, a coffee mug, a snow globe, and some chocolates by various companies. It doesn’t cost much, but it’s a very effective way of saying “we appreciate the work you’ve done”.

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      Hi Colin, great idea – I didn’t think about it!
      Have you got a link to that post you wrote?
      Also, if you can create a dedicated feed for only your R posts, please consider adding it to R-bloggers.com

      Cheers,
      Tal

  • http://www.markmfredrickson.com Mark Fredrickson

    Here is the thing: Developers need to eat. They can’t eat hugs, positive vibes, or promotional swag. A developer can only spend so much extra time on development, even if writing code is a genetic imperative (which sometimes I think it is).

    I used to work on Drupal. My best work was done on the clock, because most of my time was on the clock. I worked on Drupal in my free time (so that I could write code I thought was important, even if clients disagreed), but I could not compete with the sheer volume of paid hours hen it came to developing useful, well thought out features.

    The best R programmers tend to be people _paid_ to work on a project (e.g. academics paid to publish). I do not see this changing in the near future.

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      Hello Mark,

      From your first statement it sounds like you disagree, but what you then write seems to align with what I wrote:

      I agree with you that Developers needs to eat. I updated my post accordingly.

      I didn’t say developers should be payed for anything the do. Only that they shouldn’t be paid to programmer for the project.
      They could, for example, be paid to do other work in which they have to write code (for example, for their academic work) – and then share it with others.
      That is what I do, the code I write for this blog is usually code I need for my work which I then share with others. I would received the same amount of money if I hadn’t published any of my code. I write it for my work, I publish it for the community (and, well, my emotional need for human connection)

      You wrote how you “used to” work on Drupal. Why did you start doing that? and what made you stop?

  • http://decisionstats.wordpress.com/ Ajay Ohri

    Tal,

    I agree with you. Money cant buy love.

    We do need to hire people outside the community.

    Can all of us who use R (even in academia), make a voluntary donation using Paypal – of atleast 1$.

    Also the best CS people I know of tend to be extremely busy , and better paid – so we need to be practical on bringing in new talent.

    As we all know, R has achieved a lot- but there are still miles to go.

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      I’m glad you agree Ajay, spread the word :)

  • http://elirwd.com Eli

    VERY interesting post.
    A few years back I actually asked myself the same question – but since I was very active in development forums, and helped allot of people – I couldn’t see the full picture from the inside.

    From my experience, open-source (as much as it sounds awful) is about ego.
    And I’m talking about the support and less about the development her self. (her I think it’s just the beauty of creating something and share it with others – much like photo albums on facebook)

    Anyway, I defiantly going to share a link to this article, this is Extremely interesting.

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      Thank you for the comments Eli.

      I seem to agree with your position. I think this is part of the reason why websites like http://stats.stackexchange.com/ and http://stackoverflow.com/ work so well – because they are very good at tapping to our “ego”/”showoff” mentality.

      On the other side, a good case study for your statement about what motives people to write code is actually Wikipedia. It is a place where people are putting a lot of energy into, but rarely (if ever) do they get recognition. No one is telling them “great edit you did here” (although I think this is a missing feature in Wikipedia), but still many people do it. Why? from the first video I linked to in this article, the reason is probably the feeling of making a difference, and of making use/improving their skill.

      Great points, a lot to think about.

      Tal

  • Jaroslaw Piskorski

    Hello Tal,
    That’s a and well-written very interesting post! However, I cannot agree with some of its conclusions. Open source developers do get paid – sometimes by users, sometimes by big or small companies and it does not seem to have any negative effect on their work. I do not think that the research you quote should be interpreted as “you should not pay them” but “people will do useful/important stuff even if you do not pay them”. The fact that the biggest monetary reward does not bring best work quality can’t be used as an argument not to pay somebody – this is probably deeper and has something to do with high expectations and pressure. As Mark says: “Developers need to eat” – paying them money for OpenSource work kills two birds with one stone: they can do what they love and they can eat.

    Personally, when I find software which is useful to me and which I like and whose developers take donations I always give some money because I believe that in this way I (a) help the project grow, (b) show love :)

    Apart Linux itself, R is probably the most useful piece of software I have. I do research, I do analyzes for others and I get paid. I would like to give back (and I already give the developers tonnes of love).

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      Hello Jaroslaw, thank you for complimenting the post, and taking the time to both read and respond to it.

      I understand we are in disagreement, let’s see how I might address your responses.

      You wrote:

      “Open source developers do get paid – sometimes by users, sometimes by big or small companies and it does not seem to have any negative effect on their work.”

      Response: On what basis do you say “it does not seem to have any negative effect” ?
      Take for example the comments on Stormy Peters blog (here and here) both give concrete examples of how it can cause damage to mix money and open source.

      You wrote:

      “The fact that the biggest monetary reward does not bring best work quality can’t be used as an argument not to pay somebody”

      Response: I don’t say they shouldn’t be payed in any way. Only that they shouldn’t be directly rewarded financially for a contribution they are making. The best solution it seems is to let people have “enough” money per month (whatever that means), and let them work in such a way that taps into self worth and emotional connection.

      You wrote:

      “paying them money for OpenSource work kills two birds with one stone: they can do what they love and they can eat.”

      Response: I am afraid that what I read by now doesn’t support this claim of yours (please direct me at studies that shows otherwise). From my perspective, paying developers will mind shift them to equating contribution to pay. So if it one month they won’t get as much money, they won’t contribute as much, or at some point stop working on the project all together “since they get better paid by working for microsoft”.
      I would be curious to see how people working at REvolution, for example, balance the two (if they do).

      And with regards to what else you have written, if R is so important for you, why just give it 50$ ? I mean, isn’t it worth more to you? Or as Dan Ariely put it: How much money should you pay your mom after she made you a good meal? is 200$ enough?

      Lastly, as statisticians we are both aware that we are dealing here with a matter on which we have very incomplete data. Can I say my conclusions are statistically valid – I am not at all sure. From my personal interest in the topic of social engagement in open source software, I would put my money on that mixing money with the R project might become very bad.

      • Jaroslaw Piskorski

        Tal,

        I wasn’t making general statements – I can point to some OpenSource developers who make money off their work. Recently I donated some $s to the developer of Anki – this person quit his day time job and lives off the donations – this only makes Anki better. Travis Oliphant was earning money for sometime by SELLING the pdf with Numpy documentation and he was open about where the money was going – it was going to him and his family. He could have been doing something more profitable but less exciting. He decided to give the Numpy users a choice: do you want me to work on Numpy or on something else? If your choice is Numpy, then I need money to support my family. I bought a copy and I was happy that I could contribute in this way.

        You ask me for studies … well, I doubt there even exist such studies which address open source software and the people who create it. You yourself do not quote any relevant studies – you make inferences on the bases of some OTHER studies which you think are relevant here. We are just exchanging ideas and let’s not kill one-another’s point of view with “do you have any studies to support what you are saying” – neither of us does. We have our points of view.

        Concerning how much I should donate, I can only say that this is an artificial problem. You pay as much as you are willing to pay! You can donate 1$, and if you have made a 100000$ deal on something involving R, and you are in a particularly giving mood, donate 10000$! There is no need to set the price on a copy of R.
        Oh, and by the way, the “your mum” argument is always bad.

        Tal, you can’t just come out and say to a bunch of developers “you should not be paid, because in my opinion your motivation will be wrong”. We are motivated by different things – most of us are motivated by money, and this is not a bad motivation. Think about people with children, who are in a pickle: should I donate 20h a week to free software, or should I do earn some money? Think about those who are not as noble as you expect but are still great coders and if paid a reasonable sum of money will contribute to free software. By donating money we can make this happen. Of course, the majority of developers will still work for free, because this is who they are. They want to contribute

        To sum up: free some software developers SHOULD be paid.

        • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

          Dear Jaroslaw,

          Before I go into responding, I wish to thank you again for your words. You are forcing me to be more clear with myself what it is that I think in this matter (even if I’d turn out to be wrong), and it could not have been made without your comments and thoughts.

          Now to response:

          1) I would love for R developers to have money –
          I didn’t intend my post to be read as if I came out saying to developers (as you wrote) “you shouldn’t be paid!” or that they should only code for altruistic reaosons. Different people have different sources of motivation. And either way they need to earn money (as do I). So we are in full agreement here.

          2) Taking people who have been doing something for “social” reasons (which could be altruisem, fame, enjoyment, ego etc) and starting to pay them, might not enable them to go back to the social reasons (based on Dan Ariely’s studies). That is a notion that should be thought of. Sometimes the trade-in is worth it and sometime not. If we, as a community (of R users), would start to talk about money – this is a point (IMHO) we need to think about (which was the point of my post).
          Maybe my post should have been summed up in the first paragraph with “You can buy with money what love brings you. But it would then be hard to go back to love”.
          I’ll fix the title of my post accordingly from:
          “open source and money – why r developers shouldnt be paid”
          To:
          “Open source and money – why paying R developers might not always help the project”
          :)

          3) Will money (to the extent we can rais from within the community) “solve” the problems R face? I am not sure that raising money is going to solve the problems that where raised in recent discussions. If people in the R core team came and said “We need a CS expert to help us. We need X amount of money for that – open your wallets” – I am sure many people (including myself) would pitch in. But they haven’t done so. I assume the thought had crossed their minds and that they decided it is not a good idea (but maybe there are other reasons I hadn’t thought of).

          4) Should money be raised? Can it help in some ways (like Ajay and others suggested) like grants for students, conferences funding and so on – yes, I believe it should happen. On this account, I strongly support R core team to have a graphic designer / UI exports work on the R website to encorage that to happen.

          5) Raising money, and even paying it to a developer or two (if that is what needs to happen) can be the right corse of action, I wouldn’t know. Still, even if that will happen (and I hope it does), it still doesn’t colide with the points and concerns I raised in this article.

          With respect,
          Tal

        • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

          Jaroslaw, I agree with most of what you wrote, and updated my post accordingly.

          • Jaroslaw Piskorski

            Dear Tal,

            It seems that we actually agree on everything, but stress different aspects of the issue.

            Keep up the great work on this blog!

            Kind Regards
            Jarek

  • http://decisionstats.wordpress.com/ Ajay Ohri

    I however disagree on the main point- I think that some developers should be paid- or better still earn royalty – eg wickham’s ggplot is widely used and even if he would probably refuse money he still deserves to be paid as much as the developers of Revolution Enterprise, especially since code sharing is not allowed- I plan to write more on this on a blog piece

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      Ajay,
      I am willing to agree to disagree with you on that.

      • http://decisionstats.wordpress.com/ Ajay Ohri

        Tal

        We agree to disagree respectfully. I believe some balance between money and love- so some not all developers to be paid.

        In fact one reason I see why Windows is so popular in India based software app developers (who are a lot in number some 3-4 mill) is it gives careers to a lot of people.

        Same for learning SAS skills on your resume

        Tal- most R developers are actually paid by universities and do so on clock-

        Regarding how and what Revolution pays its developers- you can ask David Smith

        Regards

        Ajay

        • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

          Ajay, I agree with what most of what you wrote, and updated my post accordingly.

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  • Jim Lemon

    There may be others, like me, who contribute what they can in return for getting a free stats system that suits their purposes, or just because they think it should be done. However, there are many things that I don’t even try because I don’t have the necessary skills. Some of these gaps that are hard to fill aren’t too hard to identify and might be the best place to use the resources that grateful users might be willing to donate instead of their limited time.

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      I agree with you Jim.

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  • Christian

    I think it is great that so many people devote their private time to help other people on their problems in the forums, and I also agree with some of the things said on “give them love” or “send them chocolates”, but the original point was that there is money available (e.g. 10$ from 100000 people a year via Paypal) which could be used to improve R.

    I think this money could be collected (and also some contribution from Google and a few of the companies who use it commercially) to improve R where it still falls short:
    1. Graphical Interface (compared to Matlab)
    2. Data Management (integration with Excel)
    3. Package Quality Management

    But I also think the way out can be quite easy. Somebody (with a reasonable credibility, i.e. association to a Stats institute, and/or R core member) can set up another non-profit organization or even for profit company. Then at the next R conference a few projects are identified (like improving that graphical user interface), and the greatest 10 are put on a website and people can donate to them and discuss a “term sheet”. And then a random startup or a lone developer can set about it and program it. The condition is that the end product is again free of charge. One could even make it a competition, e.g. a few student teams in the world take on the task (e.g. of programming an extension module of the Tinn-R editor) and the winner gets the prize (the money which has been donated to the cause in that year). After a year and a prize winner the code is published, and the clock starts running again. It is not as “noble” as completely open-source free of charge programming, but if there are a couple of people out there who are good at programming tools (and this might include simplifying packages to make their use for starting R users easier) and are prepared to do it for little money (rather than no money) then that is great.

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      Christian, I agree with most of what you wrote, and updated my post accordingly.

    • Jaroslaw Piskorski

      That is an excellent idea!

  • http://derwisch.wikidot.com Johannes Hüsing

    I am a member of Dante (the German TeX user group) for a good dozen years. I think it is a good thing to fork off some money regularly to an excellent software product I use. Some time in between I became member of the R foundation. Not much later I did not bother any more to look for the account I was supposed to transfer my money to.

    Dante sends me regular news in paper (trying to maintain the quarterly rhythm), sometimes accompanied with a reminder that I haven’t yet paid for the current year. The Dante news tend to lie around in the restroom, get read in infrequent sessions and then populate a shelf here. Very old-fashioned.

    As I stopped paying for the R foundation, nothing happened. I am still listed as a supporting member, which is a joke given the time passed since i wrote the last statement.

    Bottom line: Not only developers need love, also financial contributors need — well, attention, maybe love, but not that kind of friendly indifference shown at the moment.

  • http://lorelle.wordpress.com/ Lorelle

    This is a fantastic discussion, and it needs to keep going. As a member of the WordPress Community, we’ve had this discussion a long time and here is my conclusion, with the hope that it helps the conversation.

    If you create something that benefits a large population in a way that they have a vested interest in the continuation of the project, they will invest in the project per their vested interest. It is this that generates income, which can be paid to the deserving souls who give so much to the project to continue its growth forward. It’s not about paying everyone, but compensating those who make significant contributions to the benefit of the project’s viability.

    This is what happened with WordPress as businesses became dependent upon its publishing platform and realized they needed to add to the coffers to keep the project viable and ongoing. Since they were used to paying for what they used, they saw the benefit in paying a substantial amount less than they would pay for proprietary software and support. The rewards were that their financial contributions kept alive a viable community that kept support rocking and development on fire.

    The same is true for Linux, Firefox, and Mozilla products, and many others. If you create something people can’t live without, they will work to keep it going.

    In the beginning of taxes (before they got messed up and political and required), people saw the benefit in contributing food, animals, wealth, and whatever they had to the benefit of the community to increase the community’s viability, whether it be for distribution of food, money, or support for protection. This is no different.

    The issue is whether or not you can find that audience with this project, an audience that can see the future of the project and see their lives and work becoming dependent upon it. If so, they will invest if asked.

    So maybe the conversation deserves a tangent to talk about how to make the project more valuable to those with the means to financially support the project while offering value to those without the means as well.

  • http://slashhome.be Laurent

    Hi Tal,
    Fortunately, I marked the post for later reading because I did not have time when initially posted: I *really* enjoyed it. The videos that illustrate it are literally enlightening. They put words on things that I was aware of because I am familiar with them, but I could never have made them as explicit as Dan Pink, Dan Ariely, Clay Shirky.

    Best wishes,

    Laurent

    • http://www.talgalili.com Tal Galili

      Hello Laurent, I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for writing to me about it!
      Best,
      Tal

  • Akhil Behl

    Dear Tal,

    First of all, let me congratulate you and other discussants on this forum. I am a student of Economics and deeply interested in the Economics of FLOSS.

    Found this discussion to be amazingly stimulating and frutiful. While I agree with most of what is being said here, I have some doubts of my own.

    Even though I strongly agree that if asked people will invest (I will, I have been using R for a couple of years now), that paying your developers is good, or as you suggest: it is vital that we outsource some of the important skills we lack within the community; I have some doubts regarding the scheme of making payment arrangements with the core/hobbyist developers. Let me immediately put a disclaimer that outsourcing to non-available skills is not what I am discussing in the following argument.

    You see, my skepticism is of a purely operational cum managerial in nature. At present, the community works on people who want to share code (not just for repuation, but also because other users help them debug their code, make it more robust/efficient, port it to other systems etc. etc.). As long as these benefits are a) intangible (like ego-gratification or prestige etc.) or are tangible but community owned in nature (e.g. good working code) we do not run into the problem of `quantifying’ the contributions.

    However, you see as soon as one brings in the money, you run into the myriad of problems of `distributing’ the money. This shall beget problems of heirarchy, recognition, power-tussle, heartburn, disillusionment and (my biggest worry) the death of the creative instinct.

    You see, a `free’ and `(merito)democratic’ chaos can not be organized along a set of monetary or other tangible incentives; take political democracy for example, and all its inherent problems of corruption, inefficiency and social distrust, and one recognizes what one means.

    Even though, I’d love for programmers to be paid, I hate to admit, as I concur with you, augmenting (while agreeing with) you arguments, that it may turn out to be a very bad idea to do so.

    I am have only recently graduated from university and wrote some R code for my Econometric needs. I love R! I don’t know how good my code is but I intend, very strongly, to learn the necessary skills to contribute to this language as also to other FLOSS projects. And I don’t expect to be paid.

    I believe that there is an inherent character of the FLOSS movement. It may not make much sense to people outside (and believe me, as an Economist, I am still baffled), but I believe it does make perfect sense to those inside (as on the other hand, as an amateur coder, I feel when I code in R and share it with friends locally), and I believe that is all that matters.

    The open source community has sustained itself. There have been instances of contributions being purloined, open source contributors choosing to move to closed-source companies or closing their projects; but the community has, on the whole, only grown. Even if R dies, I am sure that people like Mr. Ihaka and Mr. Gentleman will come up with something new, and there would still be a band of followers like yourself and mine. Some of those would stick it out, some would not, but I believe the philosophy would still live on, and that is all that matters; is it not? And as the history looks, I am sure things would only improve.

    What I believe we need to understand is that the community is not in competition with the markets. It fills in for the inefficiencies of the present forms of market, the lapse of markets: in technical terms, it fills in for demands where contracting is impossible, the demand is highly specialized and the investments costs are high such that the uncertainty makes it a risk not worthwhile. In such cases, the community shares the risk and the investment as well as the profilts. There will be times the community shall fail, and times when it shall succeed, but is not against the markets, but against its own demand.

    Therefore I am all in favor of keeping the money away from R and all such FLOSS projects. I’d make donations as and when I feel like, but I’d hate to make it a habit of my developers to expect me to pay.

    Apologize for the very long reply.

  • Akhil Behl

    Dear Tal,

    First of all, let me congratulate you and other discussants on this forum. I am a student of Economics and deeply interested in the Economics of FLOSS.

    Found this discussion to be amazingly stimulating and frutiful. While I agree with most of what is being said here, I have some doubts of my own.

    Even though I strongly agree that if asked people will invest (I will, I have been using R for a couple of years now), that paying your developers is good, or as you suggest: it is vital that we outsource some of the important skills we lack within the community; I have some doubts regarding the scheme of making payment arrangements with the core/hobbyist developers. Let me immediately put a disclaimer that outsourcing to non-available skills is not what I am discussing in the following argument.

    You see, my skepticism is of a purely operational cum managerial in nature. At present, the community works on people who want to share code (not just for repuation, but also because other users help them debug their code, make it more robust/efficient, port it to other systems etc. etc.). As long as these benefits are a) intangible (like ego-gratification or prestige etc.) or are tangible but community owned in nature (e.g. good working code) we do not run into the problem of `quantifying’ the contributions.

    However, you see as soon as one brings in the money, you run into the myriad of problems of `distributing’ the money. This shall beget problems of heirarchy, recognition, power-tussle, heartburn, disillusionment and (my biggest worry) the death of the creative instinct.

    You see, a `free’ and `(merito)democratic’ chaos can not be organized along a set of monetary or other tangible incentives; take political democracy for example, and all its inherent problems of corruption, inefficiency and social distrust, and one recognizes what one means.

    Even though, I’d love for programmers to be paid, I hate to admit, as I concur with you, augmenting (while agreeing with) you arguments, that it may turn out to be a very bad idea to do so.

    I am have only recently graduated from university and wrote some R code for my Econometric needs. I love R! I don’t know how good my code is but I intend, very strongly, to learn the necessary skills to contribute to this language as also to other FLOSS projects. And I don’t expect to be paid.

    I believe that there is an inherent character of the FLOSS movement. It may not make much sense to people outside (and believe me, as an Economist, I am still baffled), but I believe it does make perfect sense to those inside (as on the other hand, as an amateur coder, I feel when I code in R and share it with friends locally), and I believe that is all that matters.

    The open source community has sustained itself. There have been instances of contributions being purloined, open source contributors choosing to move to closed-source companies or closing their projects; but the community has, on the whole, only grown. Even if R dies, I am sure that people like Mr. Ihaka and Mr. Gentleman will come up with something new, and there would still be a band of followers like yourself and mine. Some of those would stick it out, some would not, but I believe the philosophy would still live on, and that is all that matters; is it not? And as the history looks, I am sure things would only improve.

    What I believe we need to understand is that the community is not in competition with the markets. It fills in for the inefficiencies of the present forms of market, the lapse of markets: in technical terms, it fills in for demands where contracting is impossible, the demand is highly specialized and the investments costs are high such that the uncertainty makes it a risk not worthwhile. In such cases, the community shares the risk and the investment as well as the profilts. There will be times the community shall fail, and times when it shall succeed, but is not against the markets, but against its own demand.

    Therefore I am all in favor of keeping the money away from R and all such FLOSS projects. I’d make donations as and when I feel like, but I’d hate to make it a habit of my developers to expect me to pay.

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