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VyOS PLATFORM BLOG

Building an open source network OS for the people, together.

 

Why services and not donations

This was originally intended as a reply to a comment in the VyOS 2.0 digest #1 post, but that would be a rather long reply to post in comments I guess. This question is brought up once every few months perhaps, but I never got to publishing my own position on it.

Dave Smarts asked there:

>Where / how do we donate? Is there an obvious personal vs. corp. donation system?

Contributions and commitment to development are best donations

Myself I think the best thing individuals can do for the project is contribute to the design and the code. For 2.0, we are especially in need of commited people who can join the core team, so we can work together and make it happen (given the amount of design work and CS heavy lifting it needs). The foundation needs to be at least somewhat complete before "casual" contributors can add small improvement, in the initial stage every developer needs to know the full context.

While the jessie migration work is more friendly to occasional contributors who can add a fix or two when they find a bug, it also needs a lot of dedicated and unrewarding work on cleaning up the mess we inherited and removing the assumptions that are no longer true in jessie.

While we are at it, there's an area that needs contributions especially badly: documentation. If you've got a minute, come to wiki.vyos.net and document some feature. A stab page with some config examples is better than no page at all. If you don't know what to write about, you can use the old Vyatta Core docs as a reference (just don't copy anything verbatim from there! They are not under an open source license, that would be a copyright violation).

Donations create legal issues and paperwork

To be fair, I have no idea how donations must be handled, in any country. It's only any obvious if we start a non-profit "VyOS Foundation", even then starting a non-profit is quite an undertake that comes with loads of paperwork and expenses. Remember PDPC (the foundation set up by Freenode)? It had to be dissolved because donations to Freenode couldn't cover the expenses of running it.

Additionally, whether legally required or not, I believe anyone who receives donations is morally required to publish a complete financial report and disclose what they received and what they spent it on. Non-profits are legally required to do that, in any case people who donated have the right to know what happened to their donations.

Donations create a moral problem

I'll be using Wikipedia as a model project that relies on donations.

For them, donations are unquestionably morally correct because the primary purpose of donations is to stay online, and what it takes to stay online is obvious (servers, hosting, bandwidth...). MediaWiki software (for the most part) and the content of Wikipedia are community effort, and people aren't donating towards better content, they are donating towards keeping the servers online, and as long as they are online, their expectations are met. Note that anything they do with cash left after the hosting bills is often criticized, such as the salaries of the paid foundation executives, and their research projects. But, at least the funds spent on hosting are unquestinably spent the intended way.

Donations towards development, however, are a lot like the part Wikimedia Foundation is criticized for. Donations create expectations (justifiably!), but in this case the expectations are left implicit, and open to interpretations. What exactly constitutes spending money towards development? If the donation is exactly to the VyOS project (even assuming VyOS Foundation did exist), who is eligible to receive shares of it? Is programming the only appropriate activity, or it's right to hire a graphics designer to improve the website? Myself, breaking the expectations of people who donate is the last thing I want, but without knowing their expectations it's impossible to avoid.

The other issue is common for donations and crowdfunding. What's our responsibility if we fail to do something in time, or at all?

For a small project, donations from individuals are not financially viable

VyOS is a small project, whether we like it or not. Making overly optimistic estimates, let's say we have 10 000 users, and if every hundredth user donates $10 a year, we are left with $1000. Just enough to pay the bills of one particularly modest maintainer for a month.

Why services are better

  • For companies, authorizing service purchase is normally a lot easier than authorizing a donation
  • You get real value for your money, rather than a vague promise
  • Since the obligations of each party are well defined, expectations will not be broken accidentally

What to do

If you want to contribute to VyOS as an individual, join the development. If you want to contribute financially, try to persuade your company to buy support from Sentrium: at the very least is will help me (dmbaturin) pay my bills, and if we get enough customers, build a team of fulltime (or at least part time) maintainers.

As an alternative way to get guaranteed developer time, if your company is using VyOS and you have people who already contributed to it or want to, consider allocating some of their paid time for it, we will be more than grateful if you do.

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