In the early 1990s, I worked on my first open source project. It was a processor simulator for an aging 1970s ISA Avionics processor called the 1750A. Working in the commercial satellite industry, the 1750A was an important CPU, and I was eager to contribute to its software ecosystem.
Today, open source development is a very different endeavor. Open source projects come in all sizes, from small libraries, to massive software solutions. But instead of predominantly private projects, open source consists of privately developed software to corporate sponsored development of both open source software and hardware.
So in the simplified spectrum of open source development, there are two primary development models; what I'll call private projects and corporate-sponsored projects. Private projects are those we develop independently or in small teams. We develop these because they fill a personal need. A product or tool that implements something that otherwise doesn't exist. The other end of the spectrum is corporate sponsored development. As a contributor, there's some remuneration for our development (we get paid in one way or another). But in this case, we're developing software that meets others needs and whose requirements arrive externally.
My primary interest is in private development. In this style of development, you build what makes sense for you, without an army of stakeholders changing your course. You're the owner, and what you produce is your vision and your success (or mistake). But unless you're a MacArthur Foundation grantee, it can be hard to develop software and simply give it away. Luckily, new options are appearing which are changing the models for open source development.
is a recent phenomenon in which a collective of individuals pool resources together to help fund a project or organization. In the open source domain, investors can help shape the end result through the definition of requirements for the project, typically with a higher level of contribution. All investors receive something in return, at a minimum, credit for support (such as in documentation) and the released product.
Crowdfunding of open source is working today through a number of websites that support the ability to join developers with contributors (such as KickStarter
). One recently successful project of this type is called "Light Table
", and uses the analogy of a drafting table for an interactive development environment to improve the ability to construct and visualize code. It's an interesting multi-language IDE project that exceeded its funding goal by over 50%.
This model for private open source development is really interesting because it can also help identify value early. Crowdfunded projects are funded only if they reach a funding goal set by the developer. Thinking of economics, something is worth whatever someone else is willing to pay for it. Lack of funding is then indicative of an idea or project that (at the current moment) has a limited user base. But getting a project funded through this type of model indicates something of value, something that fits a need, and therefore should exist.
So what is the future of private open source development? Is crowd funding of open source at a tipping point? I don't know, but I like the options that are opening for private open source developers.