While I was promoting this project in other communities recently I got some impression of how open source communities currently feel. I was surprised how much bad feeling comes up if somebody else seems to benefit from the fruits of the work of these communities or even tries to commercialize open source. So let's think a bit about it.
1. What motivates people to take part in open source projects?
- They are fans of a certain game/tool/... and want to contribute something bigger as a modification.
- They want to be creative. Not only artwork, music and game design but also programming can be seen as creative process.
- They want to have a certain software/tool which is not existing but deem the value of such a thing to low to commercialize successfully.
- They want to improve their skills and obtain something that can act as a reference. Working on a real project motivates them.
- They want to give something nice to others.
But also people contributing to open source invest a lot of their time and energy, which of course they could spent in a more self-serving way. So every kind of reward is welcome and even might be beneficial for open source if motivation is increased.
2. What kind of rewards seem possible?
- High download numbers.
- Positive reception personally from users or via news articles.
- Substantial monetary donations by the users.
3. Closing the source and start selling the application? - A bad idea in most cases!
First this means the team is going professionell. This means investing a lot more of the time and putting some real money into it and paying users are much more demanding. You have to make them happy and they will compare what you give them to what they have paid... still fun?
I guess that this option is only possible for a few of the very best open source products while all other would not be able to compete if they were commercial products. However in many cases the license forbids crossing over to the commercial world, once you started open source. If all the team members agree, since the licenses are copyleft, they could go closed source, but in practice the agreement is often not reached.
4. Open source doesn't mean you can't commercialize.
And that's the point that I want to make. Contributors invest a lot of time, of course they especially don't like if somebody else tries to cash on their work. The best way to get some monetary reward and keep others cashing on your work is doing it yourself.
But from the previous section going all commercial isn't the answer either. So the best practice for a successfull and rewarding project could be:
- Leave the product open source and for free and focused on the product (no bundled toolbars in installers, no ads).
- Ask for donations. You give something, so happy users might give something back. Ask regularly (like once a year), ask in your software, ask on the website, ask via crowd funding plattforms, offer the software for a small charity fee (5$) in download shops with a clear indication where to get it for free. Basically tell your users in a non-intrusive but distinct way that you value donations and promise credibly that donations will increase your motivation to work on the project. Best be specific "donate this amount and most probably you'll get that feature".
- For games and artwork: Consider using licenses that forbid commercial use (E.g. CC-BY-SA). You still can give special permission if you like.
As always any comment welcome.