Free as in ... money
July 29, 2008 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Coding Horror blogger Jeff Atwood granted $5,000 of his ad revenue to a worthy, open-source .NET project only to find the winner doesn't know what to do with the money.

Any suggestions?
posted by swift (23 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Hire a programmer to convert their codebase to an actually open-source platform?
posted by DU at 9:30 AM on July 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

Atwood gives money to one project, which can't use the money easily for legal reasons, and he therefore infers that donating to all open-source projects is a lost cause?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:32 AM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

As I posted on Hacker News this morning, $5000 isn't enough to quit your full-time job, so it's pretty much worthless. There is only so much time in a day, regardless of monetary incentive. People that want more money usually get it by charging more per hour, not by working more hours.

The best way to "donate" to an open source project is to hire the developer(s) to work on the project for a certain percentage of their time. That way they can focus on the project and still have healthcare and time for sleeping.

That said, the money is good for traveling to conferences. I can't believe this .NET guy can't think of a single conference that he wants to attend or speak at. I've already been to 4 this year, and have at least 3 more. Three are international, so the travel costs kind of add up. So that's what I use my donations / book revenue / etc. for.
posted by jrockway at 9:36 AM on July 29, 2008

Why don't they just hire a summer intern? It's a win-win situation.
posted by spiderskull at 9:40 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

What's weird to me is it's basically a no-strings attached grant. I don't see why the guy doesn't use it to buy some hardware or some food or a more comfy chair or whatever will make him more comfortable and more productive.
posted by pombe at 9:42 AM on July 29, 2008

We used ScrewTurn at my last job. Great wiki software. Terrible name.

I just wanted to email them and be like, "Y'know you can change that, right?"
posted by Afroblanco at 9:47 AM on July 29, 2008

$5000 isn't enough to quit your full-time job, so it's pretty much worthless.

This is the problem with Open Source. No imagination.
posted by three blind mice at 10:01 AM on July 29, 2008

Why don't they just hire a summer intern?

One of the counter-intuitive things about software is that adding new members to a software team does not actually make the team perform better. In fact, often the amount of training and initial communication involved means that the team actually performs worse until the new person comes up to speed.

This is particularly true for summer interns, because most of the time they are not very skilled to begin with. The aim of most internship programs is to find good talent, hire them as interns, and if they perform well eventually hire them full time. If you take out the "hire talented new grad full time" part of the equation, software interns are a net loss.

The root problem is that major contributors to open source projects tend to be talented and well-paid professional programmers who work on open source projects as a hobby. Giving $5000 to a open source project and expecting the code to get better would be similar to giving $5000 to a talented hobbyist writers group and expecting the writing to get better. It would probably be a better idea in both cases to just spend it on beer and pizza.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:01 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was just thinking that, spiderskull. It's too little to hire a student for the summer---about 10k or so---but the award would be more than enough for a part-time hire. Choose a knotty problem no one wants to work on and pay someone to do the boring hard parts.
posted by bonehead at 10:04 AM on July 29, 2008

So what we've learned here is that not every project can be completed quicker by throwing money at it. I know some folks who are going to be all bug-eyed with surprise over this.
posted by Spatch at 10:09 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

because what open source really needs is another wiki implementation...
...and funding a server-side project will really boost .net...

seems to me that there's more than one aspect of this that wasn't thought through in much detail.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 10:16 AM on July 29, 2008

Is there some ongoing competition for the most undeserving use of [more inside]? I'm not knocking the rest of the post, but the trend is annoying.
posted by mystyk at 10:17 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would buy a pony. And then strangle it.

Hey, it's my money. Who the hell are you to judge?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:26 AM on July 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

Spatch: So what we've learned here is that not every project can be completed quicker by throwing a little money at it. $5000 is an awkward amount. $500 you could spend on a nice big monitor and not feel bad. $50,000 and you could probably take a year off your Real Job. $5000 is too much to waste and too little to seriously use.
posted by rusty at 10:35 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Look, I have a lot of respect for Jeff: his writing about software development is cogent, balanced, and accurate. But the fact is that he knows fuck-all about Open Source if he expected some money to magically do, um, whatever.

In the FLOSS world, time is the currency of the realm. As an open source maintainer myself, I'd take a day of volunteered time over $5k in a heartbeat. I'm actually pretty amazed that Jeff didn't realize this.
posted by jacobian at 10:48 AM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Spending a couple of thousand on branding and site design would probably make sense (especially if someone good would do it for a reduced rate), maybe another thousand on improved content (screencasts, case studies, etc.), and perhaps sponsor some interesting uses of the software. There's a lot that can (and should) be done outside of coding.

But I can understand that it's a little intimidating to have thousands of highly critical people watching and waiting to see what you spend the money on.
posted by malevolent at 11:08 AM on July 29, 2008

Fancy chair. Fancy monitory -- maybe two. Fancy keyboard. Fancy new computer to go with it all. You can probably get all that for under $5000.
posted by chunking express at 11:40 AM on July 29, 2008

posted by peewinkle at 2:26 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


posted by Brak at 3:50 PM on July 29, 2008

Okay, I haven't even glanced at the project, but it's a wiki, right? That means it's skinnable, right?

Hire a real designer to come up with a few decent looks. That alone could significantly increase the value and appeal of the project.

Take Wordpress—it's great software, but 99% of the themes (and there are hundreds) are amateurish crapfests. Three or four slick, professional designs would be worth buckets full of designs created by people who don't know design.
posted by greenie2600 at 7:26 PM on July 29, 2008

Give it back to Atwood and pay him to do some research on subjects he's not familiar with so he's not talking out of his ass all the time? Considering the number of people that read Coding Horror, this is a huge win for everyone.
posted by bertrandom at 9:43 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Considering the number of people that read Coding Horror, this is a huge win for everyone.

Nah, Coding Horror is a nice place for the "I can pretend I know something about programming" crowd to hang out. Since they pretty much repeat whatever Atwood says, it's easy to filter them out from the real programmers. If Coding Horror suddenly became intelligent, it would make this much harder, potentially costing the world economy over $3BB annually. (Hey wow, I should start a blog! This is great bullshit.)

I am waiting for his article on why coding with your monitor turned upside down is more productive. Then it will be even easier to identify his minions in the wild.
posted by jrockway at 4:11 AM on July 30, 2008

In my opinion, many open source projects suffer from lack of attention to the user interface. This is okay with projects which are aimed at engineers or sysadmins, and it isn't an issue with larger projects which can afford UI designers, but it is an issue with many smaller open source projects aimed at "normal" users.

While money (especially an amount in this range) may not help with writing code, it can help with improving the user interface. 5000 bucks pays for assets from graphic designers, or for a professionally run usability test. It could also pay for a nicely designed web site.

There's a lot of areas these guys could spend the money and get some real bang out of it. The fact that they chose not to spend it does not really reflect on other open source projects.
posted by L_K_M at 8:06 AM on July 30, 2008

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