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[flagged] Show HN: One year devoted to open source and I've almost made $2 – horrraaaaay (opencollective.com)
68 points by realty_geek on Dec 22, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 52 comments

Don't go into open source expecting anyone to pay you. It doesn't work like that. The reason your open source project is used by anyone is, to a great extent, because it's free and open source. If you charged money at the outset, there's zero reason to believe that anyone would use it. If others are making money or raising funds on the back of your work, there's zero expectation for them to even give you a token of appreciation.

Anecdote: A few of our open source projects (our largest is https://github.com/SheetJS/js-xlsx ) have web-based demos ( http://oss.sheetjs.com/ ) which some people have copied, stripped license and attribution comments, changed the name, raised money, and then turned around and tried to shut us down. On the bright side, at least someone found it useful.

This! realty_geek, do you know if any Rails dev houses took your project and used it to build sites for real estate clients for five- or six-figure contracts? And didn't pay you a penny? I'm sure that's happened quite a few times - I confess that I very rarely donate anything to the open-source projects I've used to make a living.

May I suggest that you be the one landing the contracts? Find real estate companies in your local area that have awful web sites and reach out to them for a coffee. Show them what you've done and sell the fact that they could hire the guy who has coded a site with his own hands rather than some scrub who knows how to click things in the WordPress back end. Yes, it's icky sales work, but if making money is your goal here, you'll get much farther than what you're doing now.

You are right, people could be using PropertyWebBuilder to earn good money without me knowing.

I think I must have communicated wrongly because most comments seem to suggest that I am sad or begging for money. I know open source won't make me rich. I earned very good money for many years and saved a ton. I'm not feeling sorry for myself or wanting to squeeze every penny from this project.

I would however like it to earn enough interest and money to keep it a sustainable long term project. Over the next few months I will do more to sell it directly to end users.

I'm also hoping some smart developers will be motivated to help me improved the code, design etc.

That anecdote is quite interesting. Any blog post where you might have shared the experience? I will surelly learn from it.

> Don't go into open source expecting anyone to pay you. It doesn't work like that.

It's changing a bit in the crypto space. Take a look at:

- https://gitcoin.co/

So gitcoin could be really revolutionary or it could be a total flop.

I had a lot of hope for BitHub, a simple tool for paying bitcoin per git commit. What seems different about gitcoin which might increasing its chances of success is that it seems to be focusing on building a community/marketplace.

Would be great if GitHub could add donate buttons to pages and issues and payout. No reason this has to be done with cryptocurrency.

[1] https://github.com/WhisperSystems/BitHub


yo dawg, the image (wording) here is off-putting. https://propertywebbuilder.herokuapp.com/

I'm not uptight or anything, but it bothers me when people allegedly (see, i'm doubting you already) put in so much work and then shoot themselves in the foot with shenanigans for half a laugh. First impressions, and such...

This often bothers me, and obviously when i was cooler and in college I did it to. Aaaaaand it didn't get me anywhere. In this particular case, we're talking real-estate? big money, important purchase, long-term debts. It especially doesn't fit.

Fixed. Reset the database and re-seeded it. Come on guys - do you really think I would put such nonsense on my own site.

If anyone can deface your site at will, and it takes your manual intervention to fix it, you won't be able to just "set it and forget it" as you will be constantly babysitting your website.

Find a way to limit the damage one can do to the site by localizing changes to a randomized URL or something, because giving anyone on the internet access to your main demo is quite dangerous.

> do you really think I would put such nonsense on my own site

Well apparently you allow anyone to have access to what's shown there, so it seems you don't care what nonsense gets put on your own site.

Someone just put that up now to mess with me. That's how nice people are these days.

I'll clean out the db and re-seed in a minute.

Someone else has push rights to your Heroku project and they would do this to mess with you?

No you don't need push rights to change the content.

This is a demo site and the credentials are available on the github repo.

The ideas is to let people play with it. Only I can reset the db and that is what I do when people do silly things with the content.

I think that's the kind of meme I would of used when I was in high school for a few minutes as a joke, never permanently on a demo website. Memes are nice and all, but keep it reasonable and fitting to the rest of the page...

investors may not have a sense of humour, and if they did you would also have to be funny.

Indeed. That pic on the top says: "We're immature kids, all we want is lulz". OK, as I visitor, I immediately get the message, see how it mismatches my expectations, and close the tab.

Business? No, I see no business here.

All projects are cool, and kudos on going down the open source route.

I'm struggling to determine what you're offering though? How many new real estate websites launch, how many are looking for a "RoR ecosystem solution", how many are genuinely losing out anything by being based on Wordpress?

If you think the niche is there, I'd suggest your monetisation strategy should be like most of the big hitters in the space: continue to give away the product, sell value-added services on top. Offer the hosting, devops, SEO management, branding and advertising, or something.

At the moment there's no compel, it's a solution looking for a problem (I'm not judging, built plenty of them myself, just without any sort of expectation someone would give me money for the sake of it).

Not well versed in the open-source realm at all, but my guess is that if monetary gain is your primary goal, you'll probably have a bad time.

Most of the value of open-source work lies in the experience gleaned. It looks good on a resume. (There's also of course the personal satisfaction you may get from knowing a bunch of strangers use, and maybe even love, something you made or contributed heavily to).

> (There's also of course the personal satisfaction you may get from knowing a bunch of strangers use, and maybe even love, something you made or contributed heavily to).

From my experience this is actually way more rewarding than getting paid.

I'm interested in this project - but I do have a few questions:

Who is the target audience? Developers that need an OSS RoR alternative to wordpress? Property owners/managers that need quick sites? Someone else?

Why does Open Source matter in this case? And how does it affect the target audience?

What disadvantages of Wordpress are you trying to fix/improve/innovate around? (I took a look at the link provided on the website, but assuming the reader is not a developer, it may be better to summarize in your own words).

What do donations go towards? What fees are associated with the upkeep and development of this product? How will my donations contribute to development?

Good questions. The target audience for now is developers. The long term vision is that it acts as a platform on which other real estate services can be built.

Maybe the title I chose makes it sound like I'm complaining or begging. I'm not - just a sarcastic dig at myself. I'm not expecting to raise much money but whatever I raise will go back into the project.

The opencollective is actually a great idea because it means I don't have to go to great lengths to prove that I will put the money I raise back into the project. What I raise and spend will be entirely transparent.

There are many open source business models. For individual developers, probably the most viable one is to become a domain expert in a popular open source technology and then to find a commercial entity who uses that technology and is willing to sponsor some work on it, in exchange for having someone on staff who can help them use it much more effectively.

Not all technologies are suitable for this business model, and it is best if you are comfortable with permissive licensing. And you may wind up working more and working harder than colleagues who don't choose an open source route.

Nevertheless, there are big advantages: the job security that comes from having a good reputation in open source is valuable, and if you care about open source ideals, you can take pleasure in how much this sort of position allows you to spread them and move them forward in our industry.

I'm not bitter. Just saying. I know open source takes a long time to be worthwhile but it has kind of hurt thinking how much income I was losing out on each month (especially as everyone around me was showing of their shiny bitcoins). Hopefully I'll figure out a way to monetize next year.....

near as I saw, you were up to $17, so there's that.

"This project has been created to address a glaring gap in the rails ecosystem: the lack of an open source project for real estate websites.

The result is that WordPress has become the dominant tool for creating real estate websites. This is far from ideal and PropertyWebBuilder seeks to address this."

isn't a bad way to sell the widget to developers. but because you've already put some of the work in to set up the one-click deployment, it looks like you're walking the path of going to a wider audience, and if that's your goal (not a horrifying one, it maybe where more dollars are...) it's good to think about how to explain that chunk more broadly.

granted, it's a tough line to walk but a lot of people are doing interesting things --> https://www.eclipse.org/oxygen/ for example.

The $17 is the projected annual budget. The guy just started donating $2 this month ;)

Yes, you are right. I should aim for a wider audience. To be honest I'm totally to blame for not making more of an effort with marketing.

I will make more of an effort next year. I actually wasn't even expecting the $2 donation - it did cheer me up.

PropertyWebBuilder is currently sponsored by Coddde, Ruby On Rails consultants based in Spain and Chile:

uh they sponsored you for 2 dollars? This might be you problem.

Also until you have users you aren't going to and shouldn't make money.

> Also until you have users you aren't going to and shouldn't make money.

How then do you explain crowdfunding, which is effectively what this is?

Have you ever looked around Kickstarter? I mean really looked around Kickstarter? There are a lot of campaigns that are going nowhere. Same on Patreon, same on any clone of either of those two sites.

You’ve got to have something people want, and find a way to tell the people who want it that you’re making it. You don’t magically have people show up and rain money on you just because you’ve put up a page on a crowdfunding site.

(FWIW, I’ve done three comics kickstarters, and have a Patreon that pays most of my rent drawing comics on months when I’m cranking out pages at a good pace.)

I agree with egypturnash. I did two failed Patreons and currently have a successful one that barely is enough to live on (in southern Vermont, on Section 8) which was launched off the existence of an existing business about four times its size.

I can't speak for Kickstarter: that seems more of a 'from nothing' place and it'd be a gamble. I can say that if you are running a business charging money for what you do, you can do Patreon for the same thing and make a quarter to a half as much, IF you don't find viral success of some sort.

One big difference: doing the Patreon, you get to give your life work for 'free' to your community, which might desperately need that sort of support. I give tools to musicians, and I passionately believe that there are many musicians/producers/etc who cannot blow lots of money on proper tools they need. And, the ones I want to hear are not necessarily the ones who have the spending money.

So, my Patreon has other than monetary value to me. I take a hit in my income so that I can get the tools out there, across a wide range of host computers that sometimes aren't supported by the commercial sphere, and I get a lot of appreciation for doing it.

Even to do that, you need to already have a following, and it had better be a following that's already paying you or hiring you to do something.

I fuckin' love that Patreon earns me more from drawing my comics than ads ever did. My stuff's all ad-free now. Which, yeah, it sure is nice to be able to have media that broke queer femmes can see themselves in as long as they have some kind of Internet connection. And other broke people who may not be seeing themselves in my protagonists but enjoy other aspects of my work.

Yeah, I was selling software as retail off my own storefront: I never tried to make it ad-supported, I hate that. Patreon seems like it's a cut above trying to be ad-supported or Youtube-supported. That doesn't make it comparable to operating on a true retail basis selling merchandise… but it's definitely better than 'everything being free' and trying to roll your own support system.

I get people mad at Patreon wanting to send me money by PayPal. The thing is, if you do that, where are you going to be next month? I already know what total chaos of income and not being able to set expectations is like. It's called 'selling at retail and trying to get a next hit product'.

I get that, I'm just querying that a line should be drawn quite so directly between "you don't have any customers" and "you can't make any money" because a similar point could be made about even successful crowdfunding campaigns on Kickstarter. Those people aren't customers because there's no guarantee they're ever going to receive anything.

(See my other comment, above I think, about Patreon - you need tens of thousands of subscribers, from what I can tell, to get even a fairly basic level of income from it.)

My Patreon numbers, roughly:

51 patrons, $100 per page of comics I draw.

On a productive month I can get eight pages drawn, which is currently about 2/3 of my rent. It would be all of my rent if I wasn't living alone in a two-bedroom Seattle apartment. (Yes there are other sources of income.)

When I'm regularly drawing comics and posting them for free (I haven't been lately due to the last KS taking forever + some Life events) I see a slow climb in the number of patrons; it's been pretty much steady for the year or so I haven't been getting much in the way of comics done.

I think it took maybe a year at most to rise to that level; I wasn't building my fanbase from scratch or learning my craft, so that helped a lot. I estimate that getting back in the groove of posting pages regularly would see my whole rent covered in six months to a year.

As a couple other commenters alluded to, when it comes to making money you should consider open source as the "long game". There are thousands of developers who improved their ability to get jobs and higher salaries by demonstrating their ability via open source projects and commitment.

The more prominent names in open source are an obvious example, but there are countless others who are more marketable, perhaps more visible, and likely had more negotiating leverage upon hire due to open source work.

Your work today might pay off in far higher figures down the road.

I'd look at the wording on the opencollective page.

E.g., change the first sentence from

Ruby on Rails website builder for real estate.


Real estate website builder based on Ruby on Rails.

Also, put some newlines in, and expand the blerb out a bit.

The example site looks nice, though I notice on clicking the links to different sections in firefox, it draws once and then everything slightly resizes a little bit, so may be worth sorting out.

It might be worth mentioning propertybuilder more in the example, I've been using Wagtail recently, and their bakerydemo does this quite well. It's not over the top, but it is in there.

The way to make money with software is to either have a good marketing team or to spend a lot of time doing it yourself.

But releasing a project and hoping donations will come in almost never works.

This is quite true.

I have an online games website I work on mostly for my own enjoyment. Basically just my take on classic arcade games like Asteroids (https://arcade.ly/games/asteroids/) and the little known Star Castle (https://arcade.ly/games/starcastle/). It's made a grand total of less than £7 from ad revenue over the last two years... because what I want to do for fun is write the games, and not a bunch of boring SEO.

Sadly it's the boring SEO that might make it pay enough to cover its own hosting. And even knowing this I'm still too unmotivated to do anything about it[1].

[1] Granted I should probably use Fiverr or Peopleperhour to pay somebody to do it for me, and I probably will, but I at least want to finish my version of Space Invaders first... and, fortunately, I have some time off over Christmas to work on it.

as a fellow RoR dev and a real estate agent. My $0.02 is RoR isn't really the right tool for agents.

with WP, you get this huge ecosystem of easy hosting opportunities and addins. You can integrate your MLS directly with a wordpress app with no extra coding.

For the larger brokers, they often provide a web hosting solution for their agents to use that they built custom in house.

It is just too expensive to maintain and build compare to WP.

Made $0.49 with a close to 1,000 stars repository :)

That hurts to hear.

You know what gets me though? Patreon and YouTube. Granted you have to work your ass off to get to, say, $1000/month - based on channels I watch I'd say you need 30k+ subscribers to get to this level - but clearly there are people out there, in fairly decent numbers, who are willing to donate to support free content.

So, the question becomes: why does this not work for OSS?

It's not about the code. I'm not bad at Patreon (around $750/mo, have an open source goal at $800/mo) but it seems like code is fungible, and it's not worth paying a person just to code.

The position to be in (and I think this will work for me) is to have a vision and essentially be the leader for that vision. Then, rather than getting paid to do what might be pretty ordinary code, you're getting paid because you're communicating a vision, one that's coherent and exciting to people.

What helps me is that I'm legitimately one of the vanguard developers in digital audio and have been for many years. It shows in my work, and that work isn't mainstream, and I'm able to communicate what's being discovered (for instance, the significance of repeated quantization of mantissa in floating-point representation: people behave as if you have infinite resolution because you can represent an infinitesimal value, but of course that's meaningless around 1.0f)

Just coding is NOT enough, and in fact having high value is not enough either. You have to get people to want to support your vision (or indeed personality, for the youtubers: and that holds for other types of creators as well).

I will do substantially worse when I go open source than when I was keeping things proprietary, just as I did worse going Patreon than I did when I was selling my stuff at $50 a pop. I'm doing the open source goal (and it's designed to be a trickle of source rather than a sudden throwing open of the gates) because it's the right thing, and that's in line with my brand (or, the way I represent myself).

I just have to manage the transition in such a way that I, personally, survive this doing of the right thing. That's not a given, but I think I can do it.

Never Patreon, or open source, in the belief that it is helping you. It's helping the world. Done unwisely, it can hurt or kill you if your resources can't withstand serious poverty.

Thanks for sharing your perspective: good food for thought there.

I think the issue of OSS is there is no promise of future work. Like it solves the issue you currently have, donating won’t change much. While with creative content, you want to see similar work being done. It's also an identity thing - I donate to A and B. So, it's not completely uninterested.

Yeah, that makes sense. I guess patrons get some level of special treatment and then, as you say, there's the promise of future work.

There are many extremely talented artists, musicians, writers, educators, ..., who don't get paid (much). If you're doing this with the intent making money, then you should a) reconsider or b) leverage this project and experience to get contracting or consulting work — which, thankfully, does pay.

I'd like to feel your pain, but I have a project I've been working on for seven years that has 60x more stars and 10x more watchers than your project. It's used by a multitude of businesses and tens of thousands of developers.

Here is the open collective: https://opencollective.com/fakerjs, you'll see it's not even paying a pittance.

I suggest you either give up on writing open-source software or adjust your attitude entirely.

Congratulations - you can now put "built software that people paid for" on your resume!

Sarcastic or not, that's a legitimate achievement.

You don’t do open source because of the money. You do it because you believe software should be free, and if you’re lucky and your software is useful then maybe you can eek out an existence. But most open source makes no money.

There are lots of good reasons to do open source when you don't expect to make money for it. However, for some technologies there are definitely business plans which can work and yield higher returns than donationware: open core, consultancy, sponsored development, etc.

Begging for money?

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