More than once I’ve come across hackers advocating a scratch your own itch approach to identifying worthwhile projects. The idea is that if you build something you yourself would like to use, it will naturally tend to help others.
Working on such projects has helped me learn new skills and given me some tools I personally found useful. When I was a systems administrator working on a small team, it sometimes showed me where I could build things to help the whole team out. But that’s about as far as they ever went. You might have better luck trying to help someone else.
Right now I’ve got a couple of side projects running:
Podcasting is a huge deal right now, and I wasn’t able to find a lot in the way of single purpose, Libre solutions. It’s tempting to expect that the podcasting project would be the one to catch some interest. But so far, it hasn’t been. The work I’ve been doing as a volunteer to help out the small legal team has made a much bigger impact.
If my experience so far is a good indicator, I’d say a quicker way to make an difference is to find someone who needs your help, and help them.
Want a quick way to start that process? Check out the Code for America brigades, or search for something similar in your area if the US is out of range.
There are a number of business models that can work for Libre Software. Today I had a conversation with one of my new colleagues at the Catalyst Cooperative about the ones they have considered. There were three that seemed feasible and acceptable.
Donations & grants: The coop’s work could help turn the tide on climate change. They’ve recieved a few grants on this basise. For important causes, this could be a good approach.
Consulting services: Catalyst has also on occasion been hired to perform specific analysis based on the data they prepare. For this to work as a primary business model, you’d need to treat your Libre Software efforts as, essentially, a marketig tool for your consulting skills.
Software as a service: This is not one they’ve tried, but might in the future. Catalyst is dedicated to providing both the data and the software used to prepare it as Libre software, but in principle they would be comfortable hosting an API and charging for the convenience.
Neither advertising nor proprietary add-ons made the list. All three of these approaches rely very heavily on others interest, generosity, and good will, especially as compared with proprietary business models.
We also talked about the nature of wealth. Fundamentally, neither I nor my colleague are doing this for the sake of obscure licenses. We’ve seen decades of a system built around the idea that maximum profit is the highest good, but it hasn’t worked out well for a lot of people. We might do well to optimize for something else, such as the number of humans thriving.
The Catalyst Cooperative helps climate researchers close coal power plants, so that they can be replaced with renewable energy. They collect public utility data and identify coal power-plants that cost more to run than replace. Their projects has six months of grant funding, and they have contracted me to help them complete the work.
Yes, I’m excited about that.
The grant deadline is April 30, 2020. By that time, I hope to accomplish two things.
At minimum, see to it that the team delivers the work as promised.
Help make the work financially sustainable.
Achieving the first goal is straightforward. They promised to prepare certain software and data. I’ll help prepare that software and data.
The second requires a good deal of learning. I’ll be reading what I can from gurus like Seth Godin and instigators like Katie Patrick.
Libre Software ought to be about more than protecting the rights of individual users. It should also ensure a future of human liberty and prosperity. I want to work on Libre Software projects that create freedom and wealth.
It is important to be clear about what wealth means. It can not mean mean large corporate interests extracting resources, corrupting democracy, and exploiting desperation. It can not mean people desperately jockeying for a position in society against automation and other, even more desperate people. It can not mean short term, me first thinking. Instead, wealth must mean creating a society where humans can belong and thrive. Wealth is our desire and ability to take care of one another.
I would like to develop a working, repeatable business model for Libre Software developers based on that understanding of wealth. I would like to write and support Libre Software for people and organizations that are already operating on that understanding.
I am not so enamored with this idea that I would want to forgo a sustainable living, but if I can make it work then it will be the focus of my career, at least until it takes a life of its own.