How should you motivate and reward open source programmers? That has always been a tough question. Now, the Ethereum blockchain may be providing a solution.
Open Source Programmer Motivation
From the early days of the free and open source software movement, rewarding developers who write free and open source code has been challenging.
Some early proponents of open source argued that developers should write code and give it away for free because the esteem of their peers was reward enough. This is the view that Eric S. Raymond took in writing about "gift culture" within hacker communities.
Alternatively, open source coders are sometimes paid for their work. This became possible for a larger share of the community as open source companies like Red Hat and SUSE rose to prominence starting in the later 1990s. They provided funding for many open source projects, including in cases where they did not profit directly from the projects.For example, Transmeta, an erstwhile computer chip company, paid Linus Torvalds's salary for several years while letting him spend most of his time working on the Linux kernel.
The Problem with Open Source Programmer Rewards
The gift culture and paid-programmer models both work for some open source programmers.
However, they are not a good solution if you're an open source developer who is not lucky enough to find a company willing to pay you for your work, and you do not have the free time or material goods to afford to be rewarded by the esteem of your peers alone.
Moreover, the reliance of the open source ecosystem on benevolent funding from major companies is arguably not ideal. It means that the success of open source projects is determined in part not by their objective value to the community as a whole, but by the priorities of companies pursuing their own agendas.
Using Blockchain to Power Open Source
A new type of open source rewards system is emerging, powered by blockchain technology.
The new approach is exemplified by FundRequest, a startup that recently launched a marketplace where users can request open source code from developers, and pay the developers for their efforts.
The platform is built on the Ethereum blockchain. The blockchain-based approach makes it possible for the marketplace to operate in a decentralized fashion and to enforce agreements between users and developers automatically.
There is no middleman required to operate the platform and match users with developers. Developers are paid automatically for their work after they have completed the code and its functionality has been tested.
Perhaps the most important feature of FundRequest, however, is that it makes monetary reward opportunities available to open source developers everywhere, even if they only write small amounts of open source code. Previously, in most cases open source developers were paid for their work only if they were lucky enough to land a full-time job that allowed them to write open source code. On FundRequest, developers could write just small amounts of open source code in their spare time if they wish.
For their part, open source users have a new way to request enhancements or bug fixes for the software they use. Instead of submitting requests in ticketing systems and crossing their fingers that developers actually pay attention to them, users can offer to pay developers to write the code they need.
So, if your wireless card is not working quite right under Linux, you can now pay an open source developer to solve the problem for you, for example.
It remains to be seen, of course, how willing developers are to be paid in cryptocurrency for their work, and whether there are enough users willing to pay for open source software to make a platform like FundRequest work.
Nonetheless, FundRequest is certainly proposing a novel solution to the old problem of motivating and rewarding open source programmers. It is also decentralizing the flow of cash within the open source ecosystem, which will be a welcome trend as concerns about the corporatization of open source remain on users' minds.