The Potential Effects Of Money

If not handled carefully, money can divide a project into in-group and out-group developers. If the unpaid volunteers get the feeling that design decisions or feature additions are simply available to the highest bidder, they’ll head off to a project that seems more like a meritocracy and less like unpaid labor for someone else’s benefit. They may never complain overtly on the mailing lists. Instead, there will simply be less and less noise from external sources, as the volunteers gradually stop trying to be taken seriously. The buzz of small-scale activity will continue, in the form of bug reports and occasional small fixes. But there won’t be any large code contributions or outside participation in design discussions. People sense what’s expected of them, and live up (or down) to those expectations.

— Karl Fogel, Producing Open Source Software

7 thoughts on “The Potential Effects Of Money

  1. mkaply: a good question. I think in this case, Karl’s comments are more focussed on the case where a formerly-volunteer project starts getting “bounties” or other incoming money, thereby introducing a divide between people who were formerly working on the same basis.

    It’s hard to say whether money has a detrimental effect on the Mozilla community in this way (in part because, as Karl notes, there are no obvious individual signs of it happening that one can point to). One can observe that Mozilla does not often get large code contributions. One example would be Adobe’s contribution of their ActionScript VM code. We often go out and take code from other projects – particularly in the media/ and gfx/ parts of the code. And we have managed to persuade other groups to relicense in a way compatible with our terms (e.g. cairo, libical).

    I certainly think it would be a healthy sign if more non-employees owned more things. The number of non-employee module owners is pretty low.

    Anyway, these quotes are supposed to be thought-provoking. Less of what I think – what do other people think?


  2. In the “poisonous people” talk, some of the people who worked with Karl at CollabNet discussed how they tried hard to prevent people hired to work on the code from being perceived negatively to the extent of not providing new employees direct commit access: they had to write patches and submit them to component owners for review like any random contributor, and get commit access through the quality of their work.

    I do think that going all the way back to the Netscape source release days, Mozilla was historically perceived as putting most of its weight on paid employees (not to the pathological extent of OpenOffice, but certainly at that end of the scale). As Firefox exploded and that situation began to change somewhat, it’s ironic that it happened again when MoCo began hiring many of those unpaid hackers who had gotten into positions of responsibility anyway.

    – Chris

  3. I think it’s pretty clear that the paid people in the Mozilla project make most of the big decisions.

    And Mozilla continues to hire out of the community (a ton of people), not leaving much room for people in the community (except for testers).

    How many Firefox developers do not work for Mozilla?

  4. mkaply: if you are right, what would you have differently? It’s somewhat harsh to say to someone “we would hire you, but we won’t because we want the non-employed community to stay vibrant”. And it would also be a bit odd to say to someone “you’re the best person to make this decision, but we are going to get Fred to make it, because he isn’t paid”.

    Lots of people contribute patches to Firefox who don’t work for Mozilla – but I suspect (without figures in front of me) that there are very few _heavily_ involved people who aren’t paid to work on the project (either by us or others).

  5. Actually, when I talked to your HR person, Mozilla was making a conscious effort to not keep hiring out of the community because it was messing with the community.

    I don’t know if there is a good solution.

    Most open source projects don’t have as much money as Mozilla so they’ve never had that kind of problem before :)

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