Self-interest and guilt are the main reasons companies invest in open source. Without a clear connection to self-interest, an ongoing challenge is justifying investments of time and money to open source projects. A recent survey by Digital Ocean found that only a quarter of respondents’ companies donated more than a thousand dollars a year to open source and just 18 percent are members of an open source software foundation. Even members of an open source software foundation are not in it as an act of charity. Almost half of this group said one reason their company participates is to better promote their solutions to the community’s developers. Another survey by the Linux Foundation found that almost half of hiring managers involved with open source say their company’s investment was made to support recruitment efforts.
If you dig into the actual money being spent, a lot is going to conferences and training as opposed to paying developers a wage to work on non-company related projects. Instead of looking for a budget line item for “open source,” a better metric is how much time is spent on open source development. Fifty-five percent of developers are contributing to open source according to the aforementioned Digital Ocean survey, but only 34 percent say their company gives them time to contribute to projects not related to work. Of this privileged group, 53 percent are allowed 1-5 hours a week on non-work open source software developments.
A 2017 survey by GitHub found that two-thirds of contributors say their involvement is at least indirectly work-related. It also warned 41 percent of companies do not explicitly have an intellectual property policy that allows employees to contribute to non-work projects.
The battle for open source acceptance has been won. The next battle is creating a sustainable funding mechanism for open source developers. Companies that have created open source business models are facing challenges as companies like Amazon Web Services provide services based on OSS projects. Yet, public shaming like seen in the tweet below will not change this phenomenon. Instead, large cloud customers may be able to generate more open source investment by cloud providers if there is proof that involvement in projects has a demonstrable impact on service quality.
I'm coining a new term: "SaaSquatter" a cloud company that launches a service using an open source product, undermining the open source business model of the authors, without contributing to the development of the code.
— Mike Schwartz (@nynymike) December 14, 2018
The easiest way to generate open source investment is allowing developers to spend time on non-work related development. This is a “resource” that software managers can invest without getting budgetary approval. Note that we have explicitly not mentioned crowdsourcing as a method of funding open source developers. We acknowledge there are real possibilities in this area, but for now, most efforts to popularize this approach have failed.
Prove our skepticism wrong and send us data to prove that your crowdsourcing platform will scale and become a way to direct large-scale spending towards open source developers’ wages.
Lawrence Hecht has produced analysis and reports about enterprise IT markets for nearly two decades. He analyzes both distributed and decentralized technologies using surveys, interviews, and non-traditional market research techniques.
The Linux Foundation is a sponsor of The New Stack.
Feature image via Pixabay.