Could Your Project Use $5000?

by Mike Gunderloy - Jul. 31, 2008Comments (6)

 Before you get all excited, we're not giving away $5000. But someone else did, and this is the story of what happened with the money. You see, back in April .NET blogger Jeff Atwood donated $5000 of his ad revenues to the ScrewTurn Wiki project, to use however they wished. He recently followed up and discovered that the money had been used for ... nothing.

Not that it was frittered away: rather, the ScrewTurn Wiki maintainer had already managed to cover his hosting costs, and had been unable to think of any other good use for the money. So, he was just letting it sit in the bank for now. Jeff was distressed by this outcome:

I was crushingly disappointed to find out the $5,000 in grant money has been sitting in the bank for the last four months, totally unused. That's painful to hear, possibly the most painful of all outcomes. Why did we bother doing this if nothing changes?

His conclusion: "contributing money isn't an effective way to advance an open source project."

Jeff's commenters have taken some issue with this conclusion, and it's probably fair to say that you can't generalize from one data point (especially in the .NET world, where open source tends to be less vibrant than elsewhere) to an overall principle. And the comments are worth a look to see the brainstorming that folks are doing over the best use of the money (though the developer of the software in question hasn't weighed in yet).

But the question remains: if someone gave you $5000 to spend on an open source project where you're the lead, what would you do with it? Do you have barriers to success that money would remove? If so, is $5000 enough to make a difference, given that it's not a "quit your job" level of cash for most developers? Could you pay for marketing, graphics, documentation? Or would you be best off spending the money on pizza or letting it sit in the bank?

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There are a TON of uses for cash that several projects could use. If it is one developer, he could contract the work out for new features, or put it out to bid or whatever. I just don't think they are thinking out of the box enough, if he cannot find a use for this.

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Come on!! $5k goes a long way!!

- Pay for documentation - Pay for features - Buy adwords - Hire a PR firm - Pay it forward - donate to other projects

Show some creativity, ScrewTurn. Don't screw it up!

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Not sure if you've been to the sourceforge site lately, but the vast majority of the larger projects accept donations - presumably because they have a use for the extra $$ and I don't mean Beer!

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I'll take it - paypal details:

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I can relate to ScrewTurn Wiki: a use for that money will come in due time.

What people don't realize is that actually making use of that money may cause more problems and eat up more time than that it's worth:

- Pay for documentation? Rather useless if you have even a moderately complex project, as you'll have to do most of the work yourself. You might want to hire an editor, but that would be useless for user-level or developer-level documentation. A book maybe, but that would cost way more, and it depends on the project if a book is the most useful way of documentation.

- Pay for features? Why? Currency in the open source world is source, not money. If someone wants a feature, let him code it himself or hire someone directly. If you are aching for this or that feature yourself, chances are you'll do a better job than if you contract it out.

- Buy adwords? PR? Cute, but that doesn't help the project much. PR/adwords are useful to improve revenue when you're selling widgets, but with open source projects competing on this level is useless unless you want to turn your project into a for-profit business.

The only useful purpose might be a new logo or some graphics. Hosting and a domain name, more regular costs aren't involved with your average project.

If said donator actually wanted something do be done with that money, he shouldn't have given it 'no-strings'. He should have taken the initiative to hire someone to fix a few bugs, or given the money to the project lead in exchange for a few days of work on a few features the donator would find useful. If you give money without conditions, you shouldn't complain that it'll be beer-money or fund hosting for the next 10 years, because that's up to the project.

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* Logo design * Icon design * Travel costs to attend conferences * Buying hardware * Domain name costs * Better hosting service with load balancing and fault-tolerance * Setting up a non-profit organization for the project to collect tax-free donations and to spend money without paying taxes * Use money in case of emergencies (e.g. critical website issue) * Bounty for people who patch security leaks in the software * Custom development in open-source projects your project relies on (libraries used in the software or software used to run the website) * Booth at conferences * Consulting firm to test your software (security, usability)

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