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Re: [libreplanet-discuss] crowdfunding free software

From: Aaron Wolf
Subject: Re: [libreplanet-discuss] crowdfunding free software
Date: Mon, 21 Dec 2015 00:54:24 -0800
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On 12/21/2015 12:38 AM, Daniel Pocock wrote:
> On 20/12/15 20:12, Aaron Wolf wrote:
>> On 12/20/2015 11:04 AM, Daniel Pocock wrote:
>>> On 20/12/15 19:50, Aaron Wolf wrote:
>>>> This whole issue is complex, and it relates to what we're trying to do
>>>> with — we are making a system more specifically designed
>>>> for the challenges faced by free/libre/open projects.
>>>> Here's our run-down of why these reward-focused campaigns are ill-fit:
> Here you have written "no sustainability or accountability"
> In fact, I feel it is up to individual projects to declare their own
> strategies for sustainability and accountability and it is then up to
> donors to discriminate in favour of those who have done so.  If a well
> known free software project with a trusted governance system in place
> was raising funds through Kickstarter, for example, that would be very
> different to somebody that nobody had ever met raising funds through
> Kickstarter for the same goal.

Absolutely. I was not in any sense saying that all projects doing a
Kickstarter style fund-drive are necessarily unsustainable or
unaccountable. That would be absurd. The claim is that the
threshold-fund-drive model for fundraising does not itself, as a
fundraising approach offer sustainability or accountability.

> Under the heading "Result: high-pressure campaign", you comment on the
> "high-energy, marketing-focused campaign".  Isn't that also how our
> democracies work, for better or worse?  Elections (whether it is for the
> US President, the Debian Project Leader or Australians voting for the
> queen in 1999) typically have a fixed date and for some period of weeks
> before that everybody asks the candidates questions and listens to their
> answers and this inevitably takes time away from actual hands-on work.

Yes, there are things in life that work with hyped up deadlines and
noisy marketing etc. and that doesn't mean everything they do positive
is negated. The hyped up election cycle isn't itself a good thing in
being hyped up etc. but democracy is a good value for other reasons.
Similarly, threshold-campaigns can achieve good things. That doesn't
mean the high-pressure campaign is itself good, but some things benefit
a lot from that sort of campaign.

> You also write in bold that "Most crowdfunding sites have no requirement
> for FLO release of products" but if I understand correctly, Kickstarter
> used to state that software projects should be open source, but I can't
> find that stated on their site any more.

I would like to see any reference you have for that. The vast majority
of everything on Kickstarter is proprietary. I met a no-longer-involved
co-founder of Kickstarter a while back who told me in a naive "Open
Source" sorta way that they all liked Linux and thought about wanting to
make Kickstarter non-profit etc. but they disagreed about the details
and dropped those (weak) ideas. To be clear, Kickstarter as a Benefit
Corporation now is better than nothing. But they are a proprietary site
promoting proprietary products almost entirely.

It is unethical to make proprietary software anyway, but it's *extra*
unethical to get the general public to fund you in the first place and
*still* be proprietary.

> My general feeling is that this page makes many good points (I was
> already familiar with quite a few of the issues) but doesn't say too
> much about the benefits.  For example, it may be beneficial that
> Kickstarter encourages people to spend time learning about marketing,
> making videos and promoting their work, as these are valuable skills in
> themselves.  If we want to promote the concept of software freedom (even
> when not asking for money), these skills are invaluable.

The page is not a dismissal of marketing or fundraising or anything like
that. It's a discussion of why threshold-style campaigns are not working
well for serving the interests of free/libre values and projects. The
conclusion isn't about giving up on fundraising or marketing. It's a
page talking about why, among other reasons, there's a need for a
different model that is designed specifically to fit free/libre/open values.

>>>> But anyway, we aren't operating yet (although we're working hard to get
>>>> there). We ran our own one-off drive and continue accepting regular
>>>> donations during our pre-launch phase. We did thanks, stickers,
>>>> sponsored-commits, shirts, that sort of thing. It's a lot of work and
>>>> hassle and we have to think of the whole thing as publicity value as
>>>> much as money because the costs and hassle of this type of fundraising
>>>> are substantial…
>>> Thanks for this feedback - it is worth noting that in any industry
>>> (whether it is in research, in a big corporation, non-profit, etc) there
>>> are overheads for getting funds for projects.
>>> The bigger questions are:
>>> - how does crowdfunding relate to the alternatives?
> Under the Grants heading you write:
> "Public or private grants can be wonderful, but applications can cost
> project teams a lot of time and distract from real work"
> While I understand the point you are making there, the reality is that
> applying for grants is also work.  Some people have jobs doing exactly
> that.  Maybe you could revise the text to reflect that.

Maybe, and actually it's a wiki, and there's discussion pages (but it's
not publicly editable without logging in, and we're working to revise
some aspects of how the site works). Anyway, I think "Some people have
jobs doing exactly that" is not a smidgen of a reason to call something
"real work" even if I'll agree with you that grant application work
isn't nothing. But there's tons of make-work in the world. The fact that
someone gets paid to do something doesn't correlate at all to whether it
produces any value.

The real issue with all of this is to figure out how to get real value
at the end of the day, and all these things, including all the marketing
and funding and everything have to be acknowledged as *means* to the
end. And so, wherever they are successful at reaching the ends we want,
we should value those means and embrace them.

Right now, grant writing and threshold-campaigns *are* important in that
they have some success, but they really are not getting us to the ends
we really want, and they are risky and costly for often little or no gain.

>>> - if people go for serious targets (six-figure dollar amounts), can they
>>> realistically budget for the month they spend making videos, preparing
>>> the rewards, risk factor, etc?
>> Yes, the fundraising can cover its own costs, but it's still risky and
>> costly
>>> - do certain types or project fare better than others?
>> Of course certain projects fare better. Ones with big excited audience,
>> with trust and credibility, with reliable history, with the best
>> marketing, with realistic goals; and, unfortunately, as the article I
>> already linked emphasized, *proprietary* projects with pay-for-access
>> restrictions have a better time because they have more ways to offer
>> exclusivity to donors.
>>> Maybe these questions are better discussed on a thread on the more
>>> general issue of crowdfunding though, so I changed the subject line.
>> for more history
>> for full
>> run-down of crowdfunding platforms at all relevant to free software
>> We've done a lot more research too and writings on this. Of course, I'm
>> biased here and can't be objective totally, but we're working on
>> because we believe other fundraising methods for free
>> software and free culture are fundamentally inadequate, see the
>> snowdrift dilemma.
>> While I'm willing to discuss more about here, it's (A)
>> not usable immediately so doesn't answer questions of those doing
>> immediate fundraising and (B) anyone who really wants to engage with us
>> should join the discuss list or #snowdrift
>> on or otherwise engage with the writings and stuff we've
>> put together. At the least, I know lots of people have appreciated the
>> research we've done and find it valuable even though our vision isn't
>> realized yet.
>> Cheers,
>> Aaron

Aaron Wolf
music teacher,

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