Co-funding in open source #1

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This article is a small synthesis of the exchanges of the first learning session around co-financing in open source that took place on Tuesday, February 16th. The casting was magical, thanks to all participants!

The subject of co-financing in open source is a broad topic that concerns actors at all levels and often joins the issue of financing free software in general. The purpose of this first session was to meet between actors concerned/interested by this issue and to identify lines of interest to specify the next sessions.

The different means of co-financing identified

The existing

Fund The Code events (formerly “Hackadons”)

Since 2013, several evenings have been organized to allow participants to distribute sponsor money to open source projects. It’s a friendly event format that allows to meet maintainers of beautiful projects, a format that everyone can take advantage of.

Bastien Guerry gave us some feedback on this topic, which I’ll come back to in a future article!


Whether state or regional, there are many opportunities in public funding (stimulus plan, Innovation, Incubation …). There is money in digital but perhaps a difficulty to find it.

How to make these opportunities more visible? What are the constraints to access this financing system?

Could we imagine contributing collectively to a shared monitoring of these opportunities?

Other solutions that we have not yet explored

  • Philanthropy funds, although the economic implications are questionable.
  • State calls for tenders or calls for common ground.
  • Individual and organizational membership in a project
  • Pooling of IT budgets of different organizations with common needs
  • Mutualized trainings on the development of free tools
  • Referral of experts in free software
  • Sponsorship from large companies

What remains to be imagined ?

The Quebec Free Software Fund

This is an initiative of Drave Développement, a non-profit organization that proposes to meet the digital needs of Quebec through the opening of data and the promotion of free software in order to achieve digital sovereignty.

Noting that the digital sector is very profitable and that solutions using free software are not very present in Quebec, Drave proposes that the community should have an economic lever to finance companies and projects that use free technologies and that contribute to the vitality of the ecosystem.

The Fond du Libre Québécois is an investment fund dedicated to the financing of free software solutions with competitive returns to investors that allows to federate the efforts of the Quebec government, companies that develop and/or exploit digital commons as well as the civil society. For example, this fund will be used to start the virtuous circle of mutualized tenders by freeing up the resources needed to carry out large and lucrative public mandates.

In order to ensure the ethics and success of the projects that will benefit from the fund, Drave is putting forward a series of structuring initiatives: lobbying activities to ensure that free software is considered favorably, visibility of commercialization opportunities for free solutions, promotion of structuring projects carried out in collaboration with several stakeholders, definition of criteria and evaluation grids for ethical digital investments.

The initiative is inspiring and should be shared widely to feed the international ideosphere on the issues of digital sovereignty, communities of librist entrepreneurs and their prosperity.

The open roadmap

An Open Roadmap is a concept (we talk about it here and the wikipedia page on the subject does not exist yet…). It is a roadmap for a tool that is built by its various users according to their needs, expectations, constraints and priorities. In fact, the evolutions of the tool can be financed by several stakeholders. As you can see, this is a complex system to set up.

What if we developed a tool to manage the complexity of the system?

At Startin’blox and Open Food Network, for example, this system is currently implemented through a spreadsheet and the animation is either asynchronous or done during open forums.

Open funding had thought about the spec of such a tool, we continue at Startin’blox but as Rachel Arnould says, making a tool is not the most complicated thing. The most complicated part is its adoption by the community. Before putting a tool on the table, you have to make sure that the community is ready to co-finance it and to spend time discussing the common specifications (a nice challenge in itself). There is a strong human investment to be made in fostering this mentality. A tool is helpful but will not facilitate the pooling of resources if potential customers and users do not agree among themselves or do not want to spend time on it.

Sometimes our community doesn’t have money, how do we do it?

In the case of software solutions for associations or training organizations, it can be complicated to imagine a common pot by the users. The free price is a possibility but our system is not made for this kind of logic and this can be a blocking complexity.

The Meta Platform

We could imagine a cross between Kisskissbank, and the Gitcoin platform dedicated to free software on which everyone could express needs, improvements whether it is users or developers. This idea is very similar to the Open Funding project and to many others in fact. In this respect, it should be noted that the main difficulty encountered by Open Funding to keep the system alive was its dependence on rare profiles that require ultra transversal skills. The famous “5-legged sheep” that Sylvain mentions in the bonus of this podcast.

There are interesting initiatives to explore in the DAO (decentralized autonomous organization), a concept that is very present in the blockchain world.

An internal currency for the free software ecosystem

Jean Parpaillon mentioned this idea. In the world of blockchain, we have seen startups betting on a common currency. The players who contribute to this system will be able to pay themselves either in cash or in tokens (the unit of the common currency). This creates an emulation because the agents have an interest in increasing the value they share. The system is thus more resilient because if one organization in the ecosystem goes under, the others have not lost everything.

Of course, this includes a lot of economic notions, but it is an interesting approach because sharing a value is an incentive to cooperation and mutual aid.

Does the free currency model look like this (no link between fiat currency (EUR, etc) and June, is this a problem?)

The closest model is probably the S.E.L. model, with the difference that the use is not limited geographically, but for a specific business (creation of software under free license).

Endowment funds

If financing a feature is easier in terms of communication and user satisfaction, it appears that it is the actor at the end of the chain who recovers all the value generated. Who finances the software stack? SSh, postgres, PHP?

The difficulty of thinking about crowdfunding for these projects could make the creation of an endowment fund for these shadow technologies relevant.

A subject to be explored…

Pooling developers within kittens?

What if instead of pooling money, we pool developers? Some actors sometimes need specific skills on specific subjects. Difficult to recruit internally or to find the right freelance. Open source developers could be full-time in structures like the CHATONS and made available according to modalities to be discussed by the different actors who need this resource. Thus we would capitalize on their experiences and make them available to a larger ecosystem that is united around values.

Transversal issues identified

Free projects from the shadows

If the crowdfunding solution can easily be envisaged to finance specific functionalities, it is difficult to set up for the more complex technical stack to finance.

Pierre Ozoux of IndieHostersr: “We host open source software and sometimes we feel a bit of a pirate because we don’t always pay back to these software but we don’t have a lot of money either..We contribute to them in other ways too, but it’s always hard to assess a fair reciprocity.”

Another problem he raises is the fact that it’s the last player, at the end of the value creation chain, that picks up all the slack…

Pierre Ozoux of Indieshoster: “We have already taken Nextcloud support. This represented half the resale price. We didn’t like the business relationship very much. It’s a bit frustrating. Over the 6 months, we asked one question, but outside of support, so it went unanswered. Also we wonder, in our stack, we use Nextcloud but in fact it’s PHP, there is also Redis, Postgres, ssh, and why finally we would give half of the value creation only to Nextcloud? There is already not much left for us, but then for the rest of the stack … That’s a problem. Basically, we don’t have the same values, and we don’t work with them anymore. And with onlyOffice, when we pay, the software is no longer free, so the issue is resolved.

The profile of the product owner animator

As I mentioned in the passage on the meta platform, there is a recurring problem in the free software world. The developers who develop free solutions are not necessarily product owners, project managers or community leaders.

However, to make a software solution live, they have to get money, make the solution known, listen to users’ expectations and feedback, prioritize the evolutions, keep the solution coherent.

Open funding offered support for developers to bring their software solutions to life. Today, Startin’blox is trying to draw the contours of a product owner’s job. In this context, we organize learning sessions on this subject. You can register via the form at the end of the article.

The cohabitation of commercial and voluntary community contribution

How to raise money without losing your community? Should we separate the free contribution part from the commercial part? Jean Parpillon gave us a feedback on the Mandriva company. The issue is so rich that it will be the subject of a dedicated article. If you also have experiences to share on this subject, you can share them in the form at the end of the article.

Sharing resources

It’s up to you to sketch out the next steps!

Following this session, I tried to identify your various topics of interest and the themes to explore. On this basis, I am offering you a small consultation to help me identify the next topics for the learning sessions.

Also, we are giving a lot of space to spontaneous proposals and initiatives. The “Free Expression” field is there for that.

Thanks again to all participants! I count on you to make this learning session initiative work in your ecosystems in order to enrich these exchanges.

See you soon 🙂