Ideas around Commercialization (Good or Bad)

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Trilarion
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Ideas around Commercialization (Good or Bad)

Post by Trilarion » Fri Nov 16, 2012 10:35 am

Sorry, bit of a wall of text but I tried to structure it.

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.
That's all that comes to my mind right now.

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.
I guess high download numbers are the number one quantity to measure the success but donations are always welcome, only they will be small to non-existent most of the times.

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.
So that's what I think about commercialization of open source products. I think one should see it as a positive aspect that needs more attention than it normally gets. In summary: there is nothing bad about asking for donations, on the contrary this is a sign of a healthy project.

As always any comment welcome. :)

Veneteaou
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Re: Ideas around Commercialization (Good or Bad)

Post by Veneteaou » Fri Nov 16, 2012 5:26 pm

(My post might come off as mean because I'm really tired and not able to think clearly enough to proof read. That said, my personal stance is that money and getting paid with it is great, but I didn't come here expecting to get paid. I'm really laid back as to the direction the group chooses to take this project)

I think you make pretty good sense of the situation, and the state of open source projects in general. One thing that becomes very difficult with an income of decent size is that now you have a bunch of volunteers who may or may not have done any meaningful work (in my experience two-thirds of the group over the whole project cycle will be useless beyond discussing their own ideas) who still end up spending a great number of hours "involved" in the project. Which ones deserve to be paid? Who gets to decide which workers are deserving?

I guess the point I want to make is that monetary income means setting up some business hierarchy and organization to handle all of this. It's easy when the group is small like this to function by consensus, but if you want to go after profit (and I for one support the idea) I recommend figuring out exactly how the money is distributed and then making everyone who joins on to the project aware. Or building a model where all income sits in an account and is saved for web and server costs, managed by yourself, and then you are able to choose whether or not to pay others for their time.

Income means running like a business, so you have to ask yourself if you are here to manage a company or if you are able to hand the business side of things off to someone else.

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Post by Trilarion » Sun Nov 18, 2012 10:11 pm

Ven, your post definitely did not come off as mean in any possible way. On the contrary it raises the really important point that if there is money to distribute then there is potentially discord for every possible way of distributing, whether you spread it evenly or according to merits or whatsorever.

And I should have mentioned that I also do not expect to make a great amount. That's just never happening when you ask for donations. The truth is that I would do it anyway. But I would also not say nay to a little extra income. Any donation of a happy user I would see as a big thanks. I can imagine that it would increase my motivation and the motivation of others. So I feel it's right to ask for donations but that's the simple part anyway.

For the more difficult part of distribution I have no idea right now. Btw server costs are 50 dollar per year right now (so rather cheap) and I pay them. Probably we won't ever collect more than that and the question I raised was purely hypothetic. :lol:

Veneteaou
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Re: Ideas around Commercialization (Good or Bad)

Post by Veneteaou » Mon Nov 19, 2012 2:54 am

Like I said, you could always take donations and run ads for "server/web" costs and just never tell anyone how much those are or how much you receive. I don't think it would ever raise questions.

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Post by Trilarion » Thu Jan 03, 2013 11:16 am

I shortly thought again about this in the last days and I made up my mind:

I will just appoint myself as dictator for life :) of this project and will decide all financial matter. This is fair as long as it is advertised as this right from the beginning. Also it will simplify things considerably. I feel justified for this position because I spent so much time (at least 1 hour per day currently) on it and because I am paying for the website and because I started the project. Also I saw that many Kickstarter projects are asking successfuly for money and they are one man projects or a small commercial teams who always have some bosses/jefes. Since this project is open source anyway it can never belong to only one person, at any time anybody in the world can fork it. So this acts as an insurance against unjust behavior of tyrant.

Also we should not forget that it is absolutely not about making large profit - more like a small compensation for the invested time that increases the motivation and results in a better product (or a faster development speed or both).

Veneteaou
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Re: Ideas around Commercialization (Good or Bad)

Post by Veneteaou » Fri Jan 04, 2013 10:49 am


I will just appoint myself as dictator for life :) of this project and will decide all financial matter. This is fair as long as it is advertised as this right from the beginning.
This is exactly what I would have done. Bravo.

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