Monday, November 20, 2023

The Lack of Compensation in Open Source Software Is Unsustainable

Thomas Stringer (via Hacker News):

But… in the back of my mind I know that I have open source projects that need some attention. One happens to be heavily used. I’m nearly 3/4 million downloads, and it’s something that people seem to think has some level of usefullness. Those are the good parts. The bad parts are that there’s a dozen issues that I haven’t even reviewed much less triaged, investigated, and fixed. There are a few PRs from the community that I need to look through. There are dependencies that need to be updated. The list goes on and on. This project has hit a not-so-uncommon OSS milestone: Maintainer burnout.


What once resembled passion project is now unrecognizable from a motivation perspective. But the demand is high. There are lots of users, many in a corporate sense using my software to further progress their organization. And the bad news is, I get no money at all from it. So motivation is essentially nonexistent at this point.


This is Volunteering as a Service (VaaS). It is quite literally a free lunch at the expense of hard-working individuals.

Dave Dunfield (via Hacker News):

As I retire, my goal now is to release 40+ years of source code to “stuff I’ve written” in the hopes that others may find it useful or maybe learn a few things.


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I feel like this level of burnout is inevitable even for paid software given how imposing it is going up against customers who demand upgrades but don’t want to pay full price for that work and platform holders that make it ever more difficult to just hold steady on their platforms. I can’t even imagine how it feels to have to stare all that down when there’s zero financial compensation even under the best of circumstances.

It has always been clear to me that free software has an almost inevitable problem with ongoing development. For someone to be able to endlessly put in time to development, they need to be able to sustain themselves in other ways and for most people that is not sustainable long term.

I think it would be awesome if we had a UBI and people could actually be able to afford to spend their time building cool things without worrying about how they put food on the table (which frankly no one should ever have to do!), but we are a long way from there and there is not much evidence that as a society we have much inclination to change, which is a shame.

There is a reason I remain on a purchase & paid upgrade model - it best ensures my interests and my customers interests are aligned.

Keyboard Maestro upgrades are the easiest money I spend when they come around. Thank you for still making my favorite piece of software Peter!

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