Earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak at GitHub Universe. Abby Cabunoc-Mayes (GitHub) and I recorded a great fireside chat, where I dug into the approach I've taken in leading the various funding initiatives associated with Indeed's Open Source Program. If you've ever wanted a deep dive into how I think about funding, this video is as close as you can get without spending a few hours with me and a whiteboard.
Something I wish we'd discussed in the talk:
It's difficult to cover everything in 30 minutes, but one thing I wish we'd talked about is the need for broader visibility into shovel-ready projects that will improve open source infrastructure. I always refer back to the Python Software Foundation's Fundable Packaging Improvements repositiory as a reference. I believe we can get more organizations involved in these kinds of improvements to their open source infrastructure, but only if we raise the visibility of these fundable improvements. For this to work well, at least two things need to be true:
- Fundable Improvements Must Be Discoverable At Scale. Even the smallest organization relies on hundreds of individual open source projects. It's not enough for a few of these projects to individually list fundable improvements in their README files. Organizations need to be able to easily find fundable improvements across their infrastructure - regardless of size, language ecosystem, package manager, or the platform that hosts their code.
- Fundable Improvements Must Have A Meaningful Story. That story can be about vulnerability or reliability or usability or scalability or accessibility or sustainability or viability or something about business value that ends in 'ility' - but the story has to be there. It's not enough to simply say "improvements" or "security audit" or "replatform" - these are things that "sound like a good idea" but don't articulate how users of the project will specifically benefit. Stories build the connections through which funding flows.
We have a lot to learn collectively about fundable improvements, compared to funding general project operations or underwriting developer time. I'm looking forward to exploring this space next year.
Speaking of 2023:
I've had a lot of conversations with open source funders over the course of 2022. I'm encouraged to see so much discussion and activity in the space today compared to a few years ago, as organizations continue to get more directly involved in financially supporting their open source infrastructure. Organizations are trying new approaches, and that means they're learning. This is a good thing, and we'll see more of it in the new year.
But we have to stop thinking about this work through the lens of sponsorship and start framing the conversation around benefits to the funding organization. Sponsorship is an improvement on Charity, but as we've seen across the space recently, sponsorship spending takes a hit when organizations get anxious about economic conditions. We shouldn't move to a transactional model where organizations are paying for individual bug fixes and features - I think that's generally a bad approach that doesn't scale well. And I don't think Investment is the right word here either. If I'm honest, today I don't know what the right word is. But I hope to find it in the coming year.
Money is the least-effective language in the open source sustainability conversation. But it's a language we use a lot, because it's so widely understood. We have to remember, always, that money has to be converted to time, which has to be converted to labor, which has to be converted to code. All of those conversions are done by people. As we close out the year, I hope you'll look for opportunities to personally thank people in the open source world who have made your life easier, better, or more fulfilling. A few words go a long way.