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[Gnu-arch-users] NPO Time?
[Gnu-arch-users] NPO Time?
Thu, 29 Jan 2004 09:45:28 -0800 (PST)
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Revenues are not exactly "through the roof" for the arch project.
As I mentioned in my previous message, I'm struggling to just (quite
literally) keep the lights on here at Arch Central. (Links are given
at the end of this message that you can use to help!)
Nevertheless: arch is growing in users and contributors. The
informal implementation of the current funding model is proving to be
an obstacle for some would-be contributors. The number of people
contributing significant _labor_ to arch is on the rise and it is
critical to include such contributors in the funding model. And,
looking beyond arch, there are other worthy projects to fund as well.
Therefore, I'd like to set a fund-raising goal for the arch project --
and an institutional goal.
The institutional goal is that I would like to create a new
non-for-profit, charitable organization whose role is to fund arch and
some other free software research and development projects.
The fund-raising goal is that I would like to raise enough money to
"seed" such an organization: to pay the legal fees for creating it; to
facilitate finding and recruiting the executives; to sustain
operations for at least a short initial period; and to help bootstrap
the technical, public relations, and fund-raising processes to keep
the organization going.
Creating a charitable NPO will be a boon for donors: at least in the
United States, they'll be able to receive a tax credit for their
Creating a charitable NPO makes good legal and public policy sense:
arch and other free software projects create a _public_good_ -- anyone
can benefit from what these projects create. Donors to these
projects are not contracting for services: they're recognizing the
value of these projects and saying "please keep up the good work."
The charitable NPO legal structure was created for exactly this kind
of situation -- both in letter and in spirit.
Creating a charitable NPO is a first step towards rewarding technical
contributors. It seems to me that a funding model for free software
R&D must ultimately match donations to labor. While it will always be
true that some people will contribute to arch for their own
commercial, charitable, or hobbyist reasons -- others will continue to
contribute out of technical interest combined with a kind of faith
that "down the road", their work might be recognized and rewarded. A
legally formal funding organization will have the opportunity to
create policies for sharing funding with good technical contributors
whose work should be rewarded.
I don't want to propose, at this time, a full "charter" for the
proposed organization. Those matters must wait to be decided by the
executive committee in cooperation with the community.
I do want set out some guidelines:
* What will make this NPO different from existing charitable
organizations such as linuxfund.org and pubsoft.org?
Those organizations are aimed at being general purpose "clearing
houses" for funding free software R&D. They attempt to match
project proposals, which anyone may submit, to funding bids.
In contrast, the NPO I propose will be more tightly focused on a few
specific projects. It will not allow just anyone to post a project
proposal. It will have an (evolving) "technical mission" and the
projects it funds must fit into that mission.
Part of of the goal of the NPO I propose will be to hire engineers
for their general skills -- to employ them in a variety of projects
rather than to contract with "project proposers" to hit a specific
milestone. I'd like my NPO to evolve much more in the style of an
R&D lab than a funding clearing house -- to inspire donors to
contribute to a technical _culture_ rather than cherry-picking
short-term project needs.
The primary argument in favor of the "clearing house" approach is
one of efficiency: by specializing in administering the acceptance
and distribution of charitable contributions, they can reduce the
overhead costs of those activities. But there are two problems with
that theory: first, the overhead costs are not _that_ high to begin
with; second, the clearing houses do not seem to be operating at
high volume, even after having been in business for a substantial
* What will make this NPO different from existing charitable
organizations such as the Free Software Foundation?
The Free Software Foundation sometimes helps to fund specific R&D
projects but this is not their primary focus or mission. These days
they are far more active in equally important areas such as free
software advocacy. To the extent that they have a technical goal
it is a vague one. To the extent that they employ engineers, it is
more often to work on maintaining vital FSF infrastructure than to
work on free software R&D.
I hope that the NPO I propose can have a productive and mutually
rewarding relationship with the FSF -- but I think there is a need
for a new IPO that focuses more on R&D than on advocacy.
* What will this NPO look like? Will it resemble an R&D lab?
Yes, my intention is that this NPO _resemble_ and R&D lab.
I believe that we will:
~ need to make a priority of communicating results through
publication and software distributions
~ have a clearly articulated and evolving "mission" defining a
framework into which projects fit
~ develop an internal _culture_: long term relationships among
the programmer-researchers working their; relationships that
transcend the lifetimes of individual projects; relationships
that help to create a culture and well-spring of creativity
However, I think that this organization should also _differ_ from
traditional commercial R&D labs. In particular:
~ academic credentials are not a priority. Hiring, for example,
will not be limited to PhDs wth publication records
~ academic publication is not a priority. I believe strongly in
the rigor of peer review and the importance of publication.
However, the focus of this organization being on _practical_ R&D
rather than on research that advances the frontiers of theoretical
computer science, academic publications are not a critical forum
to target. We will be much more interested in reaching the
free software community of individuals and businesses than on
reaching the halls of academia.
* Why will donors pay?
I believe that donors can be inspired to pay because doing so
will be a cost-effective means for pursuing their self-interests.
Some donors will want to pay just because they want to help build
a world in which all software is free software.
Some donors will want to pay because the NPO produces software of
substantial value to them -- donations can be well below the
cost of commercial licensing or support fees yet sufficient to
ensure that "the good stuff keeps flowing".
Some donors will want to pay out of an entrepreneurial spirit.
They'll reason that if the NPO accomplishes some of its published
technical goals, then that will create opportunities for economic
* What will be the technical focus of this lab?
In terms of individual projects:
Arch will play a critical role, initially. Partly this is because
it is an established project, just at the inflection point of its
spread and impact. Partly also because it is a good tool which the
lab itself can use for other projects.
I _hope_ that Pika Scheme will be a focus, but it is not my place to
insist on that at this time. In relation to Pika Scheme, I might
also propose "itla" (a highly friendly, self-documenting, extensible,
interactive front end to arch).
In terms of the overarching mission:
I think it would be foolish of me to try to draft a mission
statement in isolation.
If I have a chance to sit around a table with the founders of this
NPO, when it's my time to go to the whiteboard and right down my
first initial idea, I'll write something like:
A radically simplified, "faster-cheaper-better" interactive
computing environment for end-users, built with particular
attention to making that environment easy for _programmers_ to
extend. What Emacs was to programming environments for
TTY-based applications, I want my environment to be for modern
environments. What the Macintosh was for users of Apples,
early IBM-PCs, and TRS-80s, I want my environment to be for
* How much money do you need?
I was hoping you'd ask that.
Unfortunately, the honest answer has to be: "Uh....I'm not sure."
Personally, I need several hundred bucks just to catch up on bills
and a small multiple of that would sure increase my comfort-level
and give me a little room to breath.
Fees for filing for NPO status are pretty cheap.
Recruiting executives and seed funding? I'm not an expert in those
matters. I can only (wildly) guess -- so I won't. Other
successful NPOs have grown from pretty small seeds, though setting a
record in that regard isn't one of my goals.
* You say you need to catch up on bills?
Yes. Things like water bills, electricity, and ISP services.
As I said, Arch Central faces an urgent crisis at the moment -- and
I'd sure like to get past that. In addition, I hope to better
formalize the arch funding model as described above.
If you can, please help. Those links again are:
and Moneybookers info:
address@hidden for www.moneybookers.com payments.
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- [Gnu-arch-users] NPO Time?,
Tom Lord <=