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The Internet Relies on People Working for Free (onezero.medium.com)
569 points by gilad 36 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 358 comments



Some other commenters in this thread have pointed out that nobody is forcing open source developers to work on the contributions that they make, and that is strictly speaking true. But in the culture of software development, there does seem to be an ambient message often repeated or hinted at, that it is good to "give back" to open source by contributing and that it is virtuous to do so.

I now am starting to rethink this sentiment because the vast majority of the benefit of open source contributions on github, be they to languages, runtimes, application frameworks, databases, etc, go towards increasing the bottom line of for-profit companies, not to developers. And the vast majority of the beneficiaries of open source will never support the project even when they are fortune 50 companies saving millions of dollars by using the work of one volunteer.

There is also the idea that contributing will be great for your career development. I have found that not to be the case at all, I think that no potential or current employer has ever given a rat's ass about open source contributions, and do not consider that work as valuable when making hiring decisions. The work you are paid to do is the only thing anyone cares about. I'm not saying that that shouldn't be the case, but just that that is the case.

Given then, that there's very little upside to doing open source, and most/all the benefits go to profit-making corporations, it is puzzling why do we even push for greater involvement in open source at all? It seems we shouldn't be, we should be warning people who want to contribute to Open Source that they should probably spend their time doing their own studying and personal/skill development which will allow them to succeed in the roles that they have with their current role or a role they'd like to obtain one day, for money.


How is software unique in this? Tons of museums around the world are visited by the kids of people who make 100k a year even though the average worker there is an unpaid intern. Do you read any news? Listen to NPR podcasts? I think NPR does pay interns, but they don't pay them millions of listeners * 50min a week of listener time * $60 an hour of average listener earnings.

What about science? If you ever benefitted from a genetic screening for any disease, your doctor made anywhere between $100 and $400 an hour, and the graduate student who discovered the function of that gene $10 an hour if you're accounting for his tuition credit. Who tells these students to stop spending 60 hours a week at the lab and start using their skills doing something people will pay for, like develop a no-palm-oil no-aspartame but-still-addictive Mars bar for 25c unit cost?

People will accept less money in exchange for doing something meaningful, like sitting in their basement painting stuff rich people will speculate on for millions of dollars after their death, or campaigning for a rich lawyer who already makes 200k and will get a good bonus post-election because he has the right party colors.

If you could literally sell meaning to people for less friction than those alternatives they'd eat it up. And they'd spend their time making money to spend it on your meaning-making money-sucking machine.

Because that's all money is for: be exchanged for things that make your life not suck. And this exchange tends to bear transaction costs.


> If you could literally sell meaning to people for less friction than those alternatives they'd eat it up.

"If you want to get rich, start a religion" - L. Ron Hubbard

prediction: 2020's will be a decade of hyperactive cult growth, accelerated by proliferation of private alternative currencies, loneliness and the decline in traditional religious affiliations. Patronage of the ambitiously famous will be direct and recurring, without need of branded material maguffins to mediate the transaction loop.



> Who tells these students to stop spending 60 hours a week at the lab and start using their skills doing something people will pay for, like develop a no-palm-oil no-aspartame but-still-addictive Mars bar for 25c unit cost?

Almost everybody, whether in or out of academic science, tells them that.


Traditionally, OSS contributions are selfless labors of love and curiosity. These people are flexing their intellect and creativity doing something they thoroughly enjoy: solving problems in the most elegant way possible. Code is shared with an air of positivity, camaraderie, and we're-all-building-this-together. At the risk of sounding kitschy, it's this sense of collaboration that enables the open source community to produce robust software proudly capable of competing with proprietary alternatives.

If this culture is stifled the name of depriving corporations 'free labor' through OSS, the creative hacker community isn't elevated - everyone is brought down. IMHO anyone seeking to build financial value for developers or pad their resume is better off working on a side project/startup.


It's generally not a problem until the big companies start asking for features, asking for bugs to be fixed, etc., expecting anything more than what the maintainers choose to donate. If someone from Amazon reports a bug it's kind of scary, you feel like you've broken Amazon. You might even try to set aside time you weren't planning to set aside. It's hard to remember/enforce that you don't owe them that time (especially if they're nice).


If Amazon doesn't pay you, then why are you scared of breaking Amazon?

I understand why somebody would be scared of that. They're big and important to the tune of many many billions of dollars, while you or I are not. But you shouldn't let that get to you. You should make a conscious effort to not let that get to you. If they want you to take their problems personally, let them hire you. If they can be broken by you but are unwilling to pay you, then fuck them. Put them lower in your priority queue than private individuals.


If one of your primary motivations for working on FOSS is to improve the world (which for many of us is the case), then it's very easy to feel an obligation to un-break Amazon because it is a quick way to improve the world for millions of people.

That, on its own, is fine. It brings you satisfaction rather than financial support. What starts being fishy is when companies like Amazon who can readily afford to offer financial support instead rely on and exploit that sense of obligation to get work done for free.

I realise this sounds whiny and that's not the point. The point is that by withholding FOSS contributors financial support, these companies are creating an environment in which the best and most dedicated contributors run the risk of burning themselves out, making everyone worse for it.


I would love to have created something that was so critical it could break amazon. That sounds like a ticket to $5k a day consulting gigs


From the article:

> It’s still not clear that companies would be interested in such a contract. When Stenberg asked the company that needed him to fly to a different country to troubleshoot their problem to pay for one, they refused.


Well that is indeed what I said, you just have to get used to telling people that. That's the big problem. That's the reason this thread on HN exists. People trying to figure out the right path, how to ask for money on their little OSS projects, etc.



Mike Monteiro's version runs slightly longer:

https://invidio.us/watch?v=jVkLVRt6c1U

(Fuck you, pay me.)


If a project starts having large companies relying on it, traditionally there have been 2 mechanisms to address this:

- start a company around providing enterprise support services;

- ask for the large companies to provide some resources such as a part (or all) of an employee's time to work on the project, for the parts that are more dear to that company.

If a company is unwilling to pay, either in the form of a support contract or employee's time, it should look at another solution. Not just because they are being disrespectful/annoying/distracting to the maintainers of the OSS project but also because it means they don't have a good contingency plan for when things go wrong.

For a larger business, the value of using OSS is not to save money, it's to get the right level of customization for specific needs.


You are forgetting about a third tool in the toolbox. Licenses. If you don't want your open source work to be used for profit select a license that is restrictive.


Ok but sometimes you don't care or encourage this as long as you don't have to support it for free. And you even expect companies not to be assholes taking but not giving back - not enforcing but if it's the nth ticket or bug from mega Corp X that profit from it then let them solve it themselves.


Or ask them to fix it and submit a PR. If their edge case broke it, then they should know best how to fix it.


"Fix it yourself" is not a full solution to this problem. It takes time to review and merge pull requests. Especially if some well staffed team is dropping a large chunk of code for a relatively esoteric use case. It will inevitably take a lot of back and forth to work it into the right form for the project's primary goals, and it may never fit. If a company really depends on a project, it behooves them to contribute financially through a license or employment, or to maintain a fork.


RedHat basically showed how you can setup an Enterprise OSS support business.

There's also a multitude of businesses selling support licenses for plugins/modules that extend OSS applications.


> If someone from Amazon reports a bug it's kind of scary, you feel like you've broken Amazon.

Really? If Amazon filed a bug on one of my repos I'd probably see dollar signs flashing.


How would you go about getting paid for that? I doubt it would be possible, even if the people that reported it really want to and need it, they could never get approval from the bureaucrats.


Eh - I work for a big SV company in a group that provides key software and hardware. If we have a schedule risk that can be mitigated by paying a 3rd party engineer a reasonable sum we could probably get it approved in a week. It would require at least exploring alternatives and quantifying the risk, but it's really not hard to get (reasonable amounts of prudently spent) money when your project is in the profit pipeline. I doubt it would have to go as high as a VP for approval.


Some companies do have systems set up to pay OSS projects, but it's hard to navigate. I think a lot of people enjoy donating their time to OSS because it's fairly low-stress (until the above situation happens). I don't want to figure out billing and stuff when companies want my support, it's not a company, and that's why the article here exists. That's why this discussion is happening.


That's their problem, not yours.

https://invidio.us/watch?v=jVkLVRt6c1U


One of the main benefits of releasing free software (and IMHO a glaring omission from the article) is to get bug reports before the bug affects you. If Amazon wants to pay somebody to send you such bug reports, so much the better.


Try laughing at the absurdity of that until the nervous edge blunts. You should be feeling some empowerment once the existential terror has worn off.

You know it's gone when you're ready to send them a cost estimate at twice your hourly rate.


"I'm sorry, I'm busy having a beer and playing a game right now. But I can offer you a full refund?"


That is a great problem to have -- it is how commercial wings of open source projects are formed. The commercial wing becomes a for-profit mechanism to help champion/grease bugs/features through the update process, as well as providing PS and indemnity/support services.


Why can't the person from Amazon reporting the bug just submit a pull request?


You can politely ask these nice people to contribute funds towards your project that is so important to them. Since they are so nice, they will probably nicely send some money towards the oss developer.


That is the subject of the entire "oss funding" problem. Precisely that many companies are not willing to contribute funds even though the project is important to them. That's why this thread on HN exists.


If they are not willing to contribute funding, this might mean that the project is not much important to them?

Anyway, the developer does not need to stress out too much about Amazon employees having problems with their code...


Enjoying to solve problems, yes. And curiosity too! Both are great motivators.

But selflessness? That's the lie we tell ourselves when the true driver is something else, like narcissism.

It's not a bad lie. The outcome is pretty much the same while it lasts. But altruism is not a reliable motivator, and certainly not a requirement for volunteer work. A requirement is to have basic human needs met with some minimal security. Like, not having to judge everything you do by how much money it will earn you.


Based on FOSS stats, majority of open source contributions is paid for. Either by companies or universities.


Perhaps I'm in my own echo chamber, but I definitely view open source contributions on a resume as a huge positive when I'm reviewing resumes (as a software dev my boss trusts to evaluate applicants), and I had thought that if that wasn't at least the norm that it would be pretty common among tech companies / companies where developers are part of the evaluation process.

edit: Also, all of the open source I do or that I know of my peers doing is 100% for the love of programming and open source culture, without a bunch of hidden motives. Open source was definitely key to me becoming a programmer when I was a kid - without it I would never have gone as deep as I did into coding (linux, gcc, irrlicht), 3D modeling (blender), etc.


Ahh. Irrlicht. I miss the era of small-scale game engines and everyone working on their own in OpenGL/D3D. DevMaster website even had a list of engines, with at least 300 positions on it, sortable by language and other technologies. Unfortunately that era has faded away because Unity and Unreal Engine cornered the market and there aren't many people left working on their own engines.


Have you encountered applicants with OSS on their GitHub profiles just to show off to HR? ResumeWare if you will?


I've seen a few trying to apply to my company. They had a few projects in the languages they had on their resume, but upon closer inspection you could see they were just project templates they had gotten from some tutorial, made one or two insubstantial changes to and then uploaded to github.


But they are not working for free, they're doing this work during work hours. Individual volunteer maintainers this article is about are a minority. The majority of contributions to the open source projects that "the internet runs on" are from businesses that use the software and maintain or improve it.

I'm not talking about your small hobby project with a few dozen users - as good as it may be, the internet doesn't run on it. cURL is really an exception, not the rule.


And openssl?


OpenSSL has hundreds of contributors, not just one guy, and the 'heartbleed bug' guy they were referring to wrote the code during his PhD, so it wasn't a volunteer donating his spare time.


(It is possible for there to be multiple anecdotal exceptions.)


The whole thread is anecdotal. I'm not aware of any quantitative study in the matter. There are also the distributions like Debian which is essentially run by volunteers.


I know there are volunteers that do a lot of Debian work, but that is not to say Debian is purely volunteer work. Obviously there is plenty of sponsored work. https://www.debian.org/partners/

I’d argue without trying to classify and quantify Debian contributions, there is no way to know who is doing work on Debian on their employer’s dime.

I also try to contribute to various projects in spare time as well. My contributions don’t really add up to much overall, though.

Sure, it’s all anecdotal. But otoh, the notion that FOSS is mostly volunteer work is probably worth challenging. Most non-huge projects I’ve come across only have 4 or 5 key contributors. Open source is at least, not as distributed as believed for most projects. On the other hand, companies using FOSS have incentives to contribute, and sometimes will even hire contributors on important projects.


I didn't do any quantitative study, but I'd be really surprised if most maintainers in the project are not volunteers. Those contributors, though usually individually small, tend to add up. It's also probably difficult to justify Debian package maintenance to your employer, unless you work for canonical. Even products that distribute a .deb tend to do it outside of the distribution, rather than really contributing.


Actually, there's certainly of reasons you might do maintenance work on company time. At Google for example, the gLinux distribution is heavily based on Debian[1]. Why would individuals do it on company time otherwise? One example is to solve a business problem. I have definitely contributed upstream to open source projects to solve problems at work.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/gLinux


I haven't done a quantitative study either, but here are two examples of extremely influential open source projects that the internet runs on:

The spring framework has contributions from many volunteers, but most big contributions and all of the integration work come from Pivotal.

The contributions to the linux kernel are graphed here:

https://www.extremetech.com/computing/175919-who-actually-de...

80% of new contributions are from companies. That shouldn't be surprising at all, because these companies are also the biggest users of the project.

As for myself, in the rare occasions I contributed a patch to an OSS project, most of the time it was to solve a problem I encountered at work, so I have anecdotal evidence that at least some from the category 'volunteers' also got paid to write that code.


And that's why we have things like GPL and free software, which ensure, that contributions are brought back to the community. If you want to have contributions brought back to the communities and not only rest inside for profit organizations, then perhaps choose a license to enforce that. This is what many open source people do not get: Many "don't care, it's open source"-licenses (MIT license for example) lack the backed in ethics of the free software licenses, which in contrast have been _designed_ to force contributions to be shared with the community. When someone chooses an open source and not free software license, they can't complain afterwards, that modifications are not brought back as contributions for the community. That's just being uninformed.


> vast majority of the benefit of open source contributions on github, be they to languages, runtimes, application frameworks, databases, etc, go towards increasing the bottom line of for-profit companies

This is nowhere close to true, unless you define “benefit” as “cash profits”. Even then, it’s a tough argument.

There have been extraordinary benefits to most people in the world from open-source contributions. Without a wide range of open source code projects there would be no Wikipedia, no SciHub, no web forums, no search engines, no web maps, no movie/book/restaurant review sites, no craigslist, no online dating, no news websites, no web education platforms (MOOCs, Open Courseware, Khan Academy, ...), no technical Q&A sites, no video sharing sites, no social media, no e-commerce, no online banking, no ...

The great majority of the benefits of all of these software products and projects accrue to their many users, not to their authors or corporate hosts.

(Of course technology is not all positive, and many people have also been harmed by technology. Open source also enables surveillance, stalking, bullying, new kinds of fraud, new venues for propaganda, new legal risks, new avenues for social and political control by self-interested and unaccountable people and institutions, etc.)


Open source or not, the big companies will always win. The only real difference is that as a whole society would slow down and be worse off without open source. Either way, it'll be equally unfair.


> Given then, that there's very little upside to doing open source, and most/all the benefits go to profit-making corporations

I partially disagree. Yes, the benefit will not be fairly shared. However, the volunteers' works accelerate entreprises' works, which can then provide new services and new products faster.

Imagine some ML algorithms could find the cure to aging. You have two options : either wait that some company develops it, but you might be dead by then, or accerelate the process by open sourcing your code and hopefully get the companies closer to this goal. Now, that doesn't mean you will be able to access that cure if a company finally finds it and decides to sell it, but you increase the odds that something might be discovered.

It's like giving $1000 to charity, but with the scale of software, your coded contribution can have way more impact than $1000 on the world.


Thanks for pointing this out. The quoted statement is only true if "benefit" is restricted to meaning "financial benefit." In whatever people do, not just in software, most of the financial benefit goes to profit-making companies because everything they do is directed toward making profits. But what about the unquantifiable benefits that come from improving people's lives?

How would you weigh the benefits of millions of people using and loving a piece of software, even if no profits are generated? What if they are able to free up time which they use to improve their communities, spend more time with their friends and family, maybe even make money for themselves?


in the same vein i disagree with people who complain about freeloaders who use Free Software and don't seem to give anything back. in reality we do not know how they give back to society. they might be doing many of those things that you mention that i as the developer of the software can not see.


all good points. i also think what really pushes a lot of developers to do open source, and bear with me for the unpopular opinion--is ego. they love having followers, and a voice on twitter with some open source badge on their profile page. it's in a way a status symbol of "i did this important thing that a lot of people rely on, im pretty important." i highly doubt that even 5% of contributors are doing it out of the kindness of their hearts or the community.

you can sort of see evidence of this within repositories filled with smug comments within the issues or pull requests


I’d say ego is less than 10%, and the quiet, achieving minority are not doing it out of the kindness of their hearts or love for the community, they are doing it because it’s a love of their craft.

Once you see something that you have built, running at thousands of operations a second for years, once it’s running smoothly and all the bugs and edge cases have been smoothed out. Watching the machine dance, visualising the data structures in your mind - and algorithms running on them. Thinking about state changes, loops and execution, and watching it all running in a beautiful symphony of logic : there’s really no other feeling of joy and appreciation of beauty. I love being a programmer, and I suspect the majority of open source contributors are like this.

The snide comments and unhelpful github messages are the minority in my experience, especially with more mature products (kernel development, sys ops tools etc)


Ego strokes is just one form of non-monetary compensation. OSS is not alone in being the product of voluntary work. Lots of worthwhile civic, charitable, communal and religious endeavors rely on volunteer labor which is compensated through recognition, friendships, power trips, reciprocal benefits, satisfaction of giving back, etc. The power of non-monetary compensation should not be underestimated, even in the context of paid work.

On the other hand, software maintenance is a category of work that tends to be poorly compensated even in the case of proprietary corporate software. So it is no shock that OSS maintenance also is poorly compensated either monetarily or non-monetarily.


This kind of ego satisfaction is not a necessarily bad force, and is responsible for many of the advancements in world history. Why did guys like Newton or Salk publish their work instead of profit from it in secret? Because there is more to life than money. Because there is the satisfaction of knowing tour work has changed the world. Because they wanted their names to ring out in the annals of history, be carved into the tops of marble columns, etc.


It basically boils down to whether you think people are really being altruistic, or whether it's simply reciprocal altruism.


sure-- but the main difference is that the community pretends to be super altruistic under the guise of doing god's work for the good of all developers. it comes off as super fake. at least thats sort of the vibe i get from it. i also dont have a huge sample size of repos so maybe im talking mostly out of my ass in this case

i would honestly rather it all be backed by corps and people get paid for it without any hints of "benevolent dictators"


I agree that it's a thing, aside from some examples I have in mind, like for example, the original authors of OpenSSL (originally SSLeay) didn't really ask for any credit as far as I know. I think you might be overestimating the number of people who do a lot of self-promotion simply because those people are going to be more visible. There are plenty of people who work on important things and don't really do a lot of marketing or self-promo.


> i would honestly rather it all be backed by corps and people get paid for it without any hints of "benevolent dictators"

Well don't use opensource software then, go buy it... It's your choice...

Just like it's the choice of a developer to give away something they made for free...


You mean backed by red-hat under the benevolent hand of Ulrich Drepper?


For me, it's the somewhat selfish but defensible idea that open source is a good way to get experience with technologies that I don't get to use in my day job. I get some amount of pride in seeing my name in release notes etc but that is about it, I don't do Twitter, don't have followers, and am not high-profile in any way.


I don't think this is fundamentally different from being proud of your importance as measured by salary. Granted a salary might be a more accurate measurement.


Nonsense. Salary is an indicator of utilized leverage, not of quality. Plenty of software devs could easily put themselves out of business, and not be sure what to work on next, without capturing all of the value they generate.


Maybe just community? Building something useful to oneself, releasing it to find it solves others' problems, seeing one's work have a broad benefit, collaborating with others to make it better, etc. Not sure if this is just a positive spin of your "ego" hypothesis, but my gut tells me that it's a categorically distinct motivation.


> I now am starting to rethink this sentiment because the vast majority of the benefit of open source contributions on github, be they to languages, runtimes, application frameworks, databases, etc, go towards increasing the bottom line of for-profit companies, not to developers.

I don't think that's true. The software itself doesn't benefit their bottom line because it's free for everyone. You can't charge a premium because your business runs on Linux.

All open source software does is provide a base-line of technology that all companies and all individuals can use. You can't directly or even indirectly profit of it -- you can only profit on the value you can provide on top of it.

As technologists, that's what we want! We want companies and individuals to stand on the shoulders of giants and peek a little bit higher. We don't need anyone to re-invent the wheel over and over.


> I think that no potential or current employer has ever given a rat's ass about open source contributions, and do not consider that work as valuable when making hiring decisions.

That is not the case with the D programming language effort. Quite a number of strong D open-source contributors have been recruited into very well paying positions directly because of their contributions.

I suspect the key is contributing to a higher profile open source project. One that is high enough that one can make major contributions, and not so high that one has a hard time standing out amongst the other contributors.


Also Linux.


A couple of things I've been thinking of (speaking of GPL sofware)

- free software (GPL) can be used for any purpose, by the user. Yes, this means a corporation can use the software without paying. However if it tries to redistribute the software it has the obligation to distribute the source code and any improvements made to it.

- Large corporations are made of people. It is also of value that a person inside a large corporation can learn to use GPL tools, then leave the corporation and download use the same tools at home or another job and continue to use the skills learned.

- GPL software is also great for education - students can not only use tools, but can also pull them apart and see how they work

- GPL software can be a legacy if you're into that. You can write and distribute software under the GPL, and it can survive your current job, or corporation, or live on past your lifetime. GPL software has outlived most of the places I've worked. Meanwhile the non-free software those places created during my tenures have largely disappeared.

- GPL software is a great foil against our losing war with privacy. I can foresee a future where running software you can view and modify might be the only way to ensure you know you aren't being taken advantage of.


It’s part of being a professional. We even have a word for it: pro bono. Volunteering your skills doesn’t make you a sucker.

Companies may not care about volunteer work when making hiring decisions, but that should not be why you do it.

You say most open source software is used by companies to better their bottom line, but if you’re making six figures through skilled work and not giving anything back to your community, I fail to see how that’s any better.


I'm the one you're responding to and I'm not making six figures, you can't assume everyone lives in USA making amazing salaries and bonuses.


Forget I mentioned money, then. That doesn't change anything else I wrote.

I guarantee I earned less money in the past year than anyone reading this (I don't work in tech any more), and it didn't stop me from volunteering my skills. Being rich is not a requirement for contributing.


Sure, point taken. I'm not saying don't give to charity or volunteer for a good cause, I just question if contributing to open source software is really an effective way to go about doing good. If the project you contribute to has some special positive impact on the world, then probably, but if you're just contributing to the general software ecosystem, then it's hard to see how that directly benefits anyone other than, at best, a bunch of well off software developers (though that's not clear to me either) and at worst, only benefitting profit seeking corporations which we would normally expect to fund work being done to run their business.


As someone making hiring decisions, I very much do visit the github accounts of my applicants. I consider the quality of their code and look favorably on them for making code available. I look even more favorably on those who bother to make licensing decisions for their code. Do you get an extra $5k for pushing 1k lines of GNU-licensed code? No. Did you get a callback on your job application? You bet. Do I take pride in the OSS work of my people? Yes. Does that factor into their performance review? Yes. Does that factor into their annual raise and prospects for promotion? Yes.

I have also hired people who don't have GitHub accounts. In those cases, they have some other proof of work. Papers, thesis, references (which are a drag, because then I have to also figure out how to vet the reference) and, particularly valuable, referrals from people I already know personally. This last one goes both ways: not only do I have high confidence in the good intentions of the person making the referral, I can then retrospectively assess this contact's ability to assess.


Does your company allow engineers to work on OSS while they're not busy? If not then how can you claim you're proud of their contributions, and don't you feel like you're coercing people into working overtime to get a better raise or a promotion?


We're so remote the sun never sets on our group, so the definition of "workday" is pretty fluid, so yes, "when they're not busy" is a good partition. Otherwise, as the other child comment says, there is a pride in supporting effort. I don't necessarily benefit directly from the projects they may work on. Like others have said, I can't coerce them to do write open source code. But I definitely benefit from their improved or sustained skills. You have to find differentiators to make such decisions. Are you arguing that I should ignore signal or that open source contributions are an invalid signal, or the use of the signal itself is immoral, by some definition of "immoral"?


My take: He can claim he is proud because he acknowledges their work and - as the rest of the work - it influences promotion and raises. He enjoys and rewards the positive impact this work has for the company image and the skills of the employees.


I can understand that, I just disagree that to be a better employee one should also devote their free time to an activity that directly influences one's performance review at work. This is definitely a good deal for people who enjoy doing OSS work on their own time-- but it feels wrong and not fair to those who don't want or don't have time to put the extra hours for that.


> There is also the idea that contributing will be great for your career development. I have found that not to be the case at all, I think that no potential or current employer has ever given a rat's ass about open source contributions, and do not consider that work as valuable when making hiring decisions

I don't think you can make a sweeping generalization like that, because "employer" is not some omnipotent figure sitting in an ivory tower. It's other developers, and managers who are (typically) technical and can appreciate individuals who contribute to open source.

If I see someone is an active contributor on Scikit-learn, numpy, etc. that is a certainly a strong signal for me. Yes I'm not making the hiring decision, but I can assure you the HM is going to be influenced by those who interviewed the candidate.


Citations needed. This is just a pessimistic speculation based on your experience, but my experience is the exact opposite. So who's right? We should leave this kind of stuff at the door.

Is there research comparing the current situation with a hypothetical world where OSS doesn't exist? How many less developers would have a job? How much less would the remaining be paid? I'm imagining it and that's not a world I want to be in.

To add a bit more to the "factualness" of the conversation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Software Engineers in the U.S. took home $144 billion, which for comparison is more than the revenue of Alphabet or Microsoft. How much of that do you think can be attributed to OSS?


There's a problem with this perspective. I have an insight that would help you see the picture more accurately. I would share it, but here on HN people from profit-making corporations could also see it and benefit, so just ask me in person next time you see me.


So since a corporation might get value from your work then nobody should get value from your work?


That's not a super charitable interpretation of what I said. I'm saying that for a lot of open source software, virtually 100% of the beneficiaries are corporations, so we shouldn't fool ourselves into thinking we're doing god's work here, and my second point is that people probably overestimate the personal reputational/career gains to themselves from contributing to open source. So, a large portion of open source contributions do nothing other than provide free highly skilled labour to Coca Cola, Walmart, and McDonald's.


> I'm saying that for a lot of open source software, virtually 100% of the beneficiaries are corporations

What open source projects specifically?

> So, a large portion of open source contributions do nothing other than provide free highly skilled labour to Coca Cola, Walmart, and McDonald's.

In my opinion, any open source development is valued WAY MORE than closed source development, as it can be shared and verified by others. If you have a project that's benefiting multi billion dollar companies, then you've created something useful that can be shared with small companies and individuals too.

Also at the end of the day it's the developers choice, they can stop maintaining it, but the point is; sharing code is better for everybody


> What open source projects specifically?

I have not contributed to any of these projects but for instance: Spark, Flink, Druid, Akka, Hadoop, Cassandra, Kafka, Java Spring, Hibernate, etc etc.


All those (mostly distributed) systems are not exclusively used by big corporations. They are also used in research and smaller startups too. Hell I know people who use the Java Spring Framework on personal projects.

The world of open source benefits the powerful entities, and that's OK that's what open source is about... Everyone gets the code for free... No matter who you are


> The world of open source benefits the powerful entities, and that's OK that's what open source is about... Everyone gets the code for free

The risk is that it devalues labor. And could build a culture where so much is expected for free that there is never enough financial support.


We should strive to make things easier. If open source packages can make software easier to write, that's a good thing and devalued labour is a sign that the labour is easier.

Much like the improvements in farming and agriculture have changed from manually reaping the fields to AI controlled harvesting equipment.

There will always be software engineering problems to solve, they just move up the stack...


> There will always be software engineering problems to solve, they just move up the stack...

When fewer and fewer people are needed to do the same work it doesn't necessarily make for a better or more sustainable market: socially or ecologically. Consider a world where one needs 40 years of education (instead of say 20) to begin to contribute in a way the capital owners are willing to pay for. And paying for the privilege of much of that education.


That's true, as technology advances, the knowledge needed to maintain it increases. In 50 years the software stack could require petabytes of memory to run complex simulations..

But to me that's a pessimistic way to look at it. It's an accomplishment to need less people to build amazing things.

We're already at a point where even the most experienced engineer can only understand a fraction of the stack they use. Compare that with the 1970's where a programmer might understand 90% of the mainframe they use... because it was simpler...

Basically you don't need to know as much knowledge as earlier generations to accomplish the same thing, but this devalues that thing (or makes it much harder to be good at) ... All the low hanging fruit is gone I guess


My larger point is that there could be fewer paying roles and less willingness to pay for anything. A society of a few owners, few paid workers, and everyone else without much/any influence is not a balanced or healthy one.


>I'm saying that for a lot of open source software, virtually 100% of the beneficiaries are corporations

And this is bullshit. Most popular open source projects see heavy usage in academia, personal projects, public projects, government projects, etc. Python is a massive reason any students know how to program at all.


>Python is a massive reason any students know how to program at all

At other points in our history that language would be BASIC or Pascal. Their initial implementations may not have been open source


This is bullshit. Corporations benefit from a larger pool of students and cheaper pythons developers, Postgresql and mysql are very popular is business. By comparison, how many people use Ubuntu instead of Linux?


> I now am starting to rethink this sentiment because the vast majority of the benefit of open source contributions on github, be they to languages, runtimes, application frameworks, databases, etc, go towards increasing the bottom line of for-profit companies, not to developers.

Isn't this kind of the problem the GPL is supposed to solve?

Sure, a company can build off an open source project to increase their bottom line, but they'll have to contribute back any changes they make. Which means their work is now benefitting other developers as well.

I feel like the GPL has somewhat fallen out of favor in recent years. To an extent I understand why, and yet...


Back when people were making a big deal about the apparent lack of women/minorities/etc in open source projects, I objected to trying to get them to give away their labor for free.

The response to that was that these contributions lead to jobs. But, that idea seems to have largely disappeared. There was a period where people were claiming your github account is your resume, but I haven't heard that sentiment in several years.


Originally git repos use to signal for passionate developers, the kind of people that you couldn't stop from coding. Before the 2008 boom there were far less people actively interested in software and the best were the ones that just loved it. The rest where people working in corporate farms that still hadn't got laid off from the dotcom burst.

Then the startup boom started again and a new round of devs came into the profession looking to make money and needed to prove themselves. They heard "good devs have great github profiles!" so they started creating github profiles and flooding them with code to get hired.

Now we're in the new wave of cargo cult white boarding/code challenges. You may hate them but at least the early FAANG challenges were interesting and challenging. But since every company has to have them you have devs that couldn't pass a google white board challenge trying to create their own version... which usually means they are poorly thought out.


Funnily enough, a GitHub-to-resume tool recently hit the front page[0], but yes, that opinion seems to be in decline.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20995056


A better way to look at OSS is like charity. Giving to charity is not something you do to enrich yourself, although you will likely enrich yourself in certain ways. You don't give to charity so you can get a better job in the future. And the results of giving to a charity might result in profits for corporations: suppose the charity makes a breakthrough in medicine and a large medical research company uses that to leapfrog their R&D. That's a feature, not a bug. We shouldn't discourage people from giving to charity because of these aspects.

It's worth noting that many of these companies give back to the OSS they leveraged, and are often the genesis of some of the best OSS software themselves.


> Some other commenters in this thread have pointed out that nobody is forcing open source developers to work on the contributions that they make, and that is strictly speaking true. But in the culture of software development, there does seem to be an ambient message often repeated or hinted at, that it is good to "give back" to open source by contributing and that it is virtuous to do so.

I can’t see anything wrong with that, it’s like people doing favors every day for other people without asking for money

> I now am starting to rethink this sentiment because the vast majority of the benefit of open source contributions on github, be they to languages, runtimes, application frameworks, databases, etc, go towards increasing the bottom line of for-profit companies, not to developers. And the vast majority of the beneficiaries of open source will never support the project even when they are fortune 50 companies saving millions of dollars by using the work of one volunteer.

Yes open-source improve computation as a whole, companies as well as individuals

> There is also the idea that contributing will be great for your career development. I have found that not to be the case at all, I think that no potential or current employer has ever given a rat's ass about open source contributions, and do not consider that work as valuable when making hiring decisions. The work you are paid to do is the only thing anyone cares about. I'm not saying that that shouldn't be the case, but just that that is the case.

Not my experience, have never stumbled upon a recruiter that doesn’t value OS contributions

> Given then, that there's very little upside to doing open source, and most/all the benefits go to profit-making corporations, it is puzzling why do we even push for greater involvement in open source at all? It seems we shouldn't be, we should be warning people who want to contribute to Open Source that they should probably spend their time doing their own studying and personal/skill development which will allow them to succeed in the roles that they have with their current role or a role they'd like to obtain one day, for money.

Since all previous assumptios was wrong, conclusion doesn’t follow. But I agree that people should not do Open Source for money


I agree with what you are saying here. The underlying problem here is that companies (being emotionless optimization machines) aren't willing to shell out for the benefiet they are getting from open source, because people are willing to give it out for free. The only way this will get resolved is if open source contributors as a whole stop contributing leaving companies to either have to support open source in some way, or go back to developing in house. Most likely the later as it has the benefiet of retaining IP and competitive edge. What this says is that most likely open source will start to go away in the years following if corporate entities don't start sponsoring it more. Maybe some type of subscription model like academic journals, but we all know how much people like that.

Also an angle you are considering are open source projects like Spark maintained by a company (databricks) for the benefiet of being used as a sales tool. This whole class of open source exists and pulls unwitting contributors into helping out who don't realize that they are benefieting multiple layers of corporate entities not willing to pay for it. And they will not see any benefiet from it (unless they use it as a personal sales tool to get a job at those companies).


> In the culture of software development, there does seem to be an ambient message often repeated or hinted at, that it is good to "give back" to open source by contributing and that it is virtuous to do so.

I can't think of any civic institution I belong to that isn't constantly asking for volunteers, and riding the volunteers they have to do more. I'm not sure it's any different.

Society needs volunteers, and money isn't everything.


> Society needs volunteers, and money isn't everything.

This is a great point. Still, the local church meals do not enrich multi-billion dollar companies; unlike FOSS.


Though I now cringe at the angsty teen outrage dripping from every word of this post, it's hard to believe that I wrote this on AskSlashdot 19 years ago:

https://yro.slashdot.org/story/00/01/22/1843258/open-defensi...

and still do not know whether any formal method exists (apart from the choice of license model) which could inoculate "Open Source" from being tragically impressed into corporate rent-seeking service. Or at least, as much of the Open Source ethic as is encapsulated in the public works of ethically motivated open source contributors; people who are essentially investing their time, skills and resources in the improvement of a lightly defended public common that continues to be parceled out to private interests.

* rereading the above I don't think I've made much progress in my posting style. Maybe it's something about the apparent structural inevitability of this problem, which seems more a recapitulation of deeper conflicts in human dynamics than something specific to "open source".


I have found the exact opposite actually.

Firstly, the reason I open-source most of my libraries is because, when I was a kid and learning to code, I couldn't afford or convince my parents to buy the expensive proprietary software I wanted to play with. Open source let me have access to this technology ( and to inspect how it worked ) without having to buy anything.

This is simple stuff like having GCC to compile C programs, rather than buying the intel or MS compiler.

Those early experiences got me where I am today. I contribute open-source software so that other, more junior developers have the same opportunities I did.

> There is also the idea that contributing will be great for your career development. I have found that not to be the case at all, I think that no potential or current employer has ever given a rat's ass about open source contributions, and do not consider that work as valuable when making hiring decisions. The work you are paid to do is the only thing anyone cares about. I'm not saying that that shouldn't be the case, but just that that is the case.

Again, I've never experienced this. I got my first programming job right out of high school, and my resume was filled only with various (small) open-source contributions. Without those I'm not sure what inspectable experience I would have had.

> Given then, that there's very little upside to doing open source, and most/all the benefits go to profit-making corporations, it is puzzling why do we even push for greater involvement in open source at all? It seems we shouldn't be, we should be warning people who want to contribute to Open Source that they should probably spend their time doing their own studying and personal/skill development which will allow them to succeed in the roles that they have with their current role or a role they'd like to obtain one day, for money.

Again.... the exact opposite experience. I released a moderately popular library, built a community around it, and this has opened up career opportunities for me. In the niche I work in, several interviewers had actually heard of me before I even interviewed. The scalability of open-source to distribute a positive first impression to potential employers should not be understated.

I do agree with you here:

> And the vast majority of the beneficiaries of open source will never support the project even when they are fortune 50 companies saving millions of dollars by using the work of one volunteer.

Lastly, I think the reason most people find open-source to not live up to its promises is that they do not take on leadership roles in open source organizations. Frankly, as a more senior developer now, simply being a casual contributor to a project would not add to my resume. However, being a project lead, or component lead, would. You need to target your open-source contributions to things your employers would find useful. For example, I work on mainly backend, low-level things in my current career. As much as I would like to contribute to GNOME or GTK or whatever (and I have the skills to do it), there is not enough reward to doing so, so I don't. Instead I contribute to projects that I know will ingratiate myself to future employers. Perhaps that's why our experiences are so different.


>Firstly, the reason I open-source most of my libraries is because, when I was a kid and learning to code, I couldn't afford or convince my parents to buy the expensive proprietary software I wanted to play with

Just saying, software can be free without getting open sourced.

I agree that OSS gives raw access to technology, but in larger projects, I would prioritize a good documentation/reference book over source code to understand it in a complete manner.


I don't disagree, but for young tathougies, having access to the source code was vital. It's like the difference between reading about scientific success via articles in Nature and doing the research yourself. The former is not a substitute for the latter, when it comes to learning.


Do you remember being a developer in the 90s? It was horrible and you were stuck in the confines of truly for-profit companies and for-profit platforms and paradigms.

One benefit of OSS is to lead the world to a place where you want the world to go.


Having started to code during the 80's, what was so horrible about the 90's?

I had access to Amiga and PC, bough my software tools that I actually cared about (with student discount), and did some programming gigs already before getting into university.

Back then, making a living from selling developer tools still looked like a possible way of life.


The upside is the satisfaction of solving sometimes interesting problems. Some people do crossword puzzles, some play video games. A rare few write operating systems used by perhaps billions of people.


> Given then, that there's very little upside to doing open source, and most/all the benefits go to profit-making corporations

Such a wild claim would require some evidence. But it's so patently false, I'll give you pass.

Linus has gotten extreme benefit from Linux and Git. And developers have massively, directly benefited and the world indirectly from Linux and Git.

Wikipedia, directly benefiting everyone, would not exist without open-source either its infrastructure or the code it runs on. The Internet would not exist without open-source.


> It seems we shouldn't be, we should be warning people who want to contribute to Open Source that they should probably spend their time doing their own studying and personal/skill development which will allow them to succeed in the roles that they have with their current role or a role they'd like to obtain one day, for money.

Money is only a fraction of motivation for many people. Many do open source to make the world a better or more efficient place and reduce barriers to entry.


>> the vast majority of the benefit of open source contributions on github, be they to languages, runtimes, application frameworks, databases, etc, go towards increasing the bottom line of for-profit companies, not to developers.

Which inturn creates jobs doe devlopers.

Let's face it. As a devloper. My day to day would be tough and slow without many of the free tools devlopers created for fee.

So maybe the pressure for me to contribute is just.


The problem I see is, that companies make money by using OS, but are often very hesitant to commit to the code and instead bug the OS developers to fix these problems. In some rare cases only a lead developer of an OS project can do that without a fork.

OS matured, contribution in 2019 does not necessarily mean you commit code. Donating some money is fair use in my point of view and is simply a sign of respect.


> I think that no potential or current employer has ever given a rat's ass about open source contributions, and do not consider that work as valuable when making hiring decisions.

We do care. We're hiring for backend engineers. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20871478


I hope you take it with a grain of salt. I've developed huge systems for my employers that aren't open source and my own open source contributions are nothing like my work (by design).


What helped me understand this better was thinking about writing software as a subset of all types of writing. People do write for free because they enjoy doing so or because they feel like they can advance knowledge in a particular area. This is true for both prose and also for the software medium. In both software and prose, you can gain valuable contacts and social credit by sharing your writing with others even if you don't make as much direct income from it.

The publishing industry is much better than software at getting the money to flow towards the creator, but software jobs overall pay better than most writers because of the skill sets involved. Both publishing and software, however, do have multiple ways of going from amateur enthusiast to highly paid professional if you have the talent and connections. And open software, like contributing to small literary magazines, is one way that you can make that transition.


programmers love - and i do mean love - to program, so it's not surprising that they're willing to give away their labors of love for free.

hell, most programmers would probably take a pay cut to work in a "cool" language. i'm willing to wager that C/C++/COBOL/java mean salaries are a standard deviation higher than haskell/elixir/clojure salaries. why? many reasons but i bet that companies know that they can use programmers' passion for mastery against them. leave your boring C++ slog job to "hack in Haskell!"

i'm guessing many of these guys are just clueless when it comes to how potentially valuable they are as individuals and what that's worth, while they put up a $10/mo patreon that 6 people use. i'm guessing most engineers are severely underpaid when it comes to value added, they consistently fall for the okie-doke's of "we get to type stuff into a computer and learn and oh wow, i ought to be so grateful for my six figure salary", yet they're putting entire swathes of the economy out of work for their corporate overlords.

it's tough to convince management you're worth a lot of money if you're willing to give away your precious time and resources freely.


According to the Stack Overflow Developer Survey[0] your intuition is wrong. C, C++, Java devs are paid less than average and F#, Clojure, Elixir devs above average. COBOL and Haskell didn't rank in the survey.

I 100% agree most engineers are severely underpaid. A lot of my colleagues get paid more than anyone in their family ever has (sometimes whole family put together) and just like to ride it out.

[0] https://insights.stackoverflow.com/survey/2019#salary


fascinating, thanks for this link. i stand corrected.


Isn't there a disconnect here?

> "the benefit of open source contributions on github... go towards increasing the bottom line of for-profit companies, not to developers"

Don't those for-profit companies employ people -- including developers?

>"[developers] should... spend their time doing... skill development... to succeed in... current role or a role they'd like... for money"

Are those roles you mention positions in for-profit companies? In "for money", whose money?


I mean, they perhaps should focus instead on absolutely nailing it in their position, or acquiring skills to do so, or to study to find a better position, rather than trying to benefit random companies they have nothing to do with, because if you hit it out of the park at work that will actually be rewarded, generally, whereas there is no reason to expect open source work to pay off.


As much as I dislike licensing zealotry, this is where I think the BSD guys have it dead wrong. The BSD license strictly enables corporate parasitism by dis-incentivising upstream contributions and source-sharing. If the pride in suspecting that one's work is widely used is payment enough for a person, then so be it. But I've never understood why subsidizing corporations is a point of pride for those folks.


one can make an argument that it depends on who is the copyright holder. if it is an individual or a non-profit entity, then the GPL is beneficial. but if it is a corporation, then a BSD license is preferable for others because it allows competitors to that corporation to compete on equal terms.

so to turn the argument around BSD unix would not exist in its current form if the initial corporate developers had not released it under a BSD compatible license.

so it's not just about volunteer BSD developers subsidizing corporations. but there is a give and take in the BSD world too.

compare that to mariadb which contains most of the code that is owned and controlled by oracle now and which prevents mariadb to sell to clients that demand a custom license agreement.

now for a GPL fan, this is irrelevant because they shouldn't be selling such licenses anyways, but fact is that the owner of a GPL product is the only one who can sell such licenses, whereas anyone who uses a BSD product can sell such licenses.

in this sense, BSD code ownership can not be sold because actual ownership of the code is pretty much irrelevant, whereas GPL code ownership can be sold because the owner always has an advantage.


But then, to avoid that, you can embrace the concept of copyleft (free software) instead of open source.

So, you can make your software free as in 'free speech', and obligate other companies to keep the products they construct above yours still free.

Better than to make them free as in 'free beer' where they can just consume your work and not give back to the overall movement.


> the vast majority of the benefit ... go towards increasing the bottom line of for-profit companies, not to developers

The problem is in the licensing.

Large companies have become the primary user rather than the real end users and other developers... because the licenses make it possible.


It benefits other developers by making their lives easier: no management purchase decision hassle, can inspect source, fix bugs, customize, etc all the standard open-source stuff.

It's just not financially beneficial to developers.


>we should be warning people who want to contribute to Open Source that they should probably spend their time doing their own studying and personal/skill ...

Its Open Source that is chiefly responsible for every bit of that personal skill I have.

In this game, the "giant" corporations are the irrelevant little players that hardly matter. They don't contribute, so they may as well not exist. They can be safely ignored except for the rare occasion that they "fart in our elevator" with their patent nonsense.


A lot of the FAANG and tech companies contribute to open source projects.


Honestly not everything is business-centric—if I’m working on something for pure love of it, that’s going to turn up the best quality I can muster. Those big companies run by business people usually just thinking about dollar signs. Just another shitty side effect of capitalism.


this is the core reason for free software


This. I use permissive licenses mostly, but if you're disgruntled about companies ripping off your work without ever giving back, it could be that you've used the wrong license.


I feel like there is an article a week about how open source developers are being used by corporations for free labor. I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding that these journalists aren't grasping.

Nobody is doing anything they don't want to do. Nobody is forced to build open source software. And, most importantly, most of these contributions aren't worth enough individually to charge for. It's only collectively that these contributions have value and we all collectively benefit from it. And for-profit companies are part of that collective benefit but that doesn't mean money needs to be involved.

I'm working on an open source project right now -- I've put a lot of hours into it -- and it's cool but there is no way to build a profitable business from it. It's an end-user product, the small number of users will like it, and I just enjoyed building it. But I also don't want to make it business. I already have a job.


Nobody's saying it has to be, uh...what's the name of a profitable internet company that isn't Facebook? But making demands on people who are working for free is bad manners. I don't care if you think the internet changes everything, it's still possible to be an asshole.

My off the cuff solution is for project owners to add a status flag to their issue trackers: PAID. Anybody can submit a bug as PAID, but it costs $50,000-100,000 to do so, per bug. And no private fixes: there is one version and everybody gets the benefit. No badgering on ETAs either.

If Ford thinks it has value, then the developer should get some of that value, and $100K for a suitable patchlevel of cURL might even be a low estimate.


$50k-100k seems a bit high for a bugfix.... else I'm desperately undervaluing my worth in salary negotiations


Nope, the bugfix is only $50. The other $49950 is for knowing which line to change. (adapted from old joke from https://allthetropes.fandom.com/wiki/Percussive_Maintenance)

And in practice, it also "buys" you all of the other bug fixes and releases from helping to fund the developer. So while the bug itself might only take a day, the infrastructure around being in a position to do that takes much more time.


High for salary, yes. High for buying enterprise support on mission-critical software? Perhaps the value might be different.


I was about to comment that most customers might expect more support than a bugfix for a $100k support contract, then I remembered my last few interactions with enterprise software vendors.

If anything, it'd probably exceed expectations.


Enterprise support and "no badgering on ETAs" don't quite go together.

I want to live in the fantasy world some of you live in where you expect corporations to cut you a $100k check, no strings attached.


ETAs and individual bounties, I think, are different in a subtle way. ETAs require a strong organziation that can deliver such things. Piecemeal support to fix one bug does not.

Also, I've seen companies cut larger checks for sillier things with minimal conditions, so...


It's not enterprise support, it's simply paying for priority and nobody would be forcing them to participate in this scheme anyway.

And yes, this would be the only voice they get in the development process. Why shouldn't it be? Apple's had a 12 year free ride so far.


They'll probably lose much more than $100k on the bug impacting their systems.


Good point - though I'd argue anything mission-critical should never rely on external SME contractors being hired to fix one-off bugs.. :shrug:


This is great, although I’d settle for $10k/bug.

Of course this also incentivizes people to add bugs in on purpose


It's not a cobra problem. If bugs get added "on purpose," which is a ridiculously cynical opinion of Stenberg's ethics, people can fork it and maintain it themselves.

$10K is way too cheap. I recommend putting some thought into the idea of business value.


Charging money to fix something because of who they are seems unethical to me... Maybe it's just capitalism, which is usually antithetical to open source free software...

If they want it fixed, let them add resources to the project like submit a pull request, donations or charge people support fees for urgent bugs, which many OSS projects do...


Charging money to fix something because of who they are seems unethical to me

First of all, I believe that everything people do is according to some ethic, or set of criteria that motivates them, so there's no such thing as "unethical."

Secondly, it's not charging money because of who they are, it's charging them because of what they have, which is money, which is a desire to have a bug fixed, and which is not expertise in doing so.

Thirdly, charging money like this is not antithetical to free software, and as a matter of fact is promoted by FSF. Here they are dispensing with your argument in the first sentence: [1]

Fourthly, if they were going to submit a PR they would already be doing so (and maybe they have), but as the story goes, the lion's share of coding is performed by Stenberg. PR's are free and money is also a resource. Why not put the resource in the place with the most expertise?

In what way is the money I suggest not a donation or support fee? Lack of contracts to complicate things? Lack of tax writeoffs? These companies don't pay taxes anyway.

1. https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.en.html


> First of all, I believe that everything people do is according to some ethic, or set of criteria that motivates them, so there's no such thing as "unethical."

OK, that's one way to look at it. In that case I mean bad ethics...

> Secondly, it's not charging money because of who they are, it's charging them because of what they have, which is money, which is a desire to have a bug fixed, and which is not expertise in doing so.

That sounds reasonable and is similar to taxing the rich I suppose, but to me it's discrimination on WHO you are.

> Thirdly, charging money like this is not antithetical to free software, and as a matter of fact is promoted by FSF. Here they are dispensing with your argument in the first sentence:

That's their opinion, my opinion is that charging money for open source software (usage, support) usually results in bad incentives for the people controlling the software (more bugs = more money), which is bad for the consumers of the software.

Allow people to contribute money/resources to the project if they want/need, is the best for everyone.

> These companies don't pay taxes anyway.

True, but a whole other issue.


Well at that point it isn't buying for getting it fixed but for attention and fast response. Anyone else could just do the fix themselves and submit it. The lack of gatekeeping is what keeps it ethical essentially - like the difference between "only Apple technicians" and "anyone capable".


I would also add that "Apple technicians" is not a subset of "anyone capable".


This isn't paying because of who they are, this is paying to be prioritized outside the normal process. They are 'adding resources to the project', in the form of money (which will hopefully draw in more developer time, another resource)


> Charging money to fix something because of who they are seems unethical to me

Are you aware of how much price discrimination these corporations do to everyone (including yourself) every single day? Most stuff we buy everyday, including the name brand generic stuff, is priced at what we will spend and is completely divorced from any kind of cost to produce. You will be charged more if you live in a wealthy area, you will be charged more just for living in a developed country, you will be charged more for shopping at certain times of day, you will be charged more because advertising manipulated you.

It's unethical, but giving them a taste of their own medicine isn't.


Opensource projects have long lists of issues, some of them stay open for years. I presume cormpanies want it addressed quickly


I'm in a similar situation.

Started a website for fun, maybe I'll sell books. Then my website got popular and people want more content faster.

I have a day job, so I can't work full time unless I'm paid similar.

I'm unsure what to do next. My free website can be monatized with the goal of quitting my job.

Or users can get my hobby for free.

It seems no one is happy except me. The only benefit, my popularity will likely have me employed forever.


>It seems no one is happy except me.

I disagree. Plenty of people are enjoying your content so much they want more. That doesn't mean they are unhappy, only that they think they could be happier than they already are. They are happy.


It seems no one is happy except me

That sounds ok to me. You're only responsible for your own happiness.


> It seems no one is happy except me.

Well, keep what makes you happy, and rest assured that happy people usually do not voice their happiness, so the entirely one-sided voices you are hearing carry almost no real information.


There's a balance. People might _say_ they want more content but sometimes when you give it to them they get bored.


My 2 cents: keep supporting it for free for a little bit longer, and then if there's no way to keep managing it yourself, make the leap and monetize. If people don't like ads/paying and leave, then you'll at least have a large userbase that can recover.


> Nobody is doing anything they don't want to do. Nobody is forced to build open source software.

Many job postings list OSS contributions as a requirement / desirable for employment. So, I'm not sure if your statement holds up.

I personally know developers that contribute to OSS because of this. And many that have burnt out because of the constant need to contribute.

Most OSS contributors do it for fun - but there is a section that do it because it's becoming part of the interview / job hunting process.


> Many job postings list OSS contributions as a requirement / desirable for employment.

Well employers simply want to see your portfolio and coding abilities, and open public code is the easiest way to screen candidates. It's not the most ideal way of checking since there can be many good candidates that don't write OSS for fun but I suppose it's a trade off the employers are making. If you can demonstrate your coding abilities through blogging or other mediums other than OSS than that's a good way to show you know what you're talking about.

If you write OSS on the side then of course that's a bonus but definitely not a requirement. I tend to write OSS for fun but I don't feel obligated to fix issues if I don't have the time or resources unless they offer payment. Anyone can simply fork the projects and fix it themselves.


I've seen many job adverts that specifically cited "seeing Github contributions" as a requirement.

I don't see how that is not enforcing free work.

You could say that you can choose to not apply to that company, but not everyone lives on SF and has tons of offers to choose from.

It becomes this unspoken rule that to work on many companies you have to contribute to OSS (preferably on Github). If you really need a job, you can't really pick and choose.


> I've seen many job adverts that specifically cited "seeing Github contributions" as a requirement.

> I don't see how that is not enforcing free work.

Paid open source work, on GitHub-hosted projects, still produces viewable GitHub contributions. That requirements enforces open source work, it doesn't enforce free work. Like other professions where people are hired based on portfolios, having a portfolio requirement doesn't mandate free work, just work that is not restricted by the client in a way which prevents it's use in your portfolio.

Of course, if your paid work doesn't fit that model, you may need to do free work to build a portfolio.


That requirement is even stupider considering many FOSS projects don't even use github. So a decade-plus OpenBSD developer would not be qualified, but a guy with a million useless and broken npm modules would be a shoe-in.


> most of these contributions aren't worth enough individually to charge for

Then why does my employer pay me even for the small bugfixes I make to their code?


Because their business model can't rely on the interest and free-time of others, so they are willing to pay you for your continued "interest" in their codebase. They aren't paying you for those bugfixes, rather for your ability to available to do those bugfixes immediately


Because you go on to fix more than one bug. And add features. etc.


> most of these contributions aren't worth enough individually to charge for

I agree with your general thrust but on a tangent, this isn't true and isn't the right way to think about software contributions, even 'trivial' ones.

A trivial change seems low value to you because you wouldn't have to spend much time at all doing the same thing yourself.

To see its market value, you have to view it from the perspective of the average person - how long would it take them to make that change? Answer: a very, very long time. They'd have to learn the fundamentals of programming first.

The value of something isn't how long it takes to do it in isolation. It also factors in how long it took to get to the position where you could do it at all.


I actually completely agree with you; the value isn't how long it takes or how much effort goes into it -- it's how much it's worth to the user. The problem is that most contributions, individually, just aren't worth that much to a users individually.

For example, how much would I personally for a fix to a graphical glitch fixed in the Dolphin emulator? Think how hard that is to quantify! Is it worth $20? It it worth $0.00001 over thousands of users? Is it not worth anything because nobody even noticed it?

If there was a dollar amount attached to it, would it ever get fixed at all? Maybe it's value is too low to bother now that we've quantified it that way; new features are worth so much more.

Even if you sell something for what's it worth to the end user, it might not be worth doing. Most of my open source projects fall in that category: It's worth maybe $20 to an end user, and there might be handful of users, and that's definitely less than my hours are worth to make it. But that's why it's not a business.


> The problem is that most contributions, individually, just aren't worth that much to a users individually.

Sure, but that article mentions business (you do too in your comment) that expect something from the OSS project. The alternative for that business is certainly much more expensive than paying for that fix, thus it does seems to be worth that much to them.


A very good point and an angle I'd not considered to what you were saying. What I said of course assumes that the result of the change is worth the effort in and of itself. Usually true for a product managed by a business, potentially less true when the implementer simply chooses whatever they want to change in an open source project.


A converse example is also possible: an one-by-one error can be critical,cause a game to crash or database to loose data.

That tiny fix could take minutes to a person that knows the code base, and weeks to one that doesn't. Its financial impact could be in millions.


It seems to me to be major permission culture speaking that shows they just don't get a culture other than monetizing every little snippet by prior agreement and getting lawyers involved. It is a very media culture with their excesses and it shows.

When really the open source software is about making it easier to work with across jobs so that everyone doesn't need to tediously reinvent the wheel ad nausuem or jump through hoops.


What corporations rely on is thousands of parallel endeavors surfacing the best ideas and educating and training programmers from which they will take, use, hire, profit, save, all for free.

The stuff they don't use and the years of learning how to invent successful stuff is every bit as important as the failures. The successes can only be built by salvaging good ideas and abandoning bad ideas from the failures and obsolete successes. You pretty much have to demonstrate how you continue learning on Github just to get an interview.

Vital projects are not ok financially and we're starting to find out when they get repurposed as malware, or go unsupported despite being a dependency for a double-digit percentage of the internet. Most of the world is default-excluded from creating brilliant programmers because their parents have zero hundreds of dollars, let alone thousands, to subsidize a Stallman, Gates or Torvalds for the rest of us.

We are subsidizing corporations and they are racing to see who can hoard the most hundreds of billions of dollars.


> aren't worth enough individually to charge for.

The downside I see is that leads to a lot of “just good enough” solutions out there. There are things like the Spring “framework” that kind of sort of almost do something useful but add conceptual overhead and leaning time and subtract troubleshoot-ability in exchange for not much, but enough that the people in charge push you to use it since it’s free anyway. On the one hand, if not for open source, Unix, vi, grep, awk, sed, lex, yacc and bash would all be long dead and buried now - there was a time before I came across Linux that I was starting to try to implement all of these myself in DOS because they were so useful and there was no available equivalent. On the other hand, if not for open source, I wonder if we ever would have gotten PHP or Java or a lot of the monstrosities that hang off of them like Zend and Hibernate.


There's an issue though. You spend time as you please and its fine, but ultimately current society revolves on exchanging services in a semi quantifiable manner (transactions at price). You cannot live on free contributions. I find this hybrid situation too paradoxical.


There is no shortage of businesses and individuals that will pay you to write software!

What you're saying is that someone who might enjoy gardening as a hobby should be able to make a living mowing other people's lawns for free. Which is, of course, as ridiculous as expecting to make a living on free software contributions.

We already have a perfectly good system for exchanging goods and services for money. Free software is not that system and that is fine. The issue comes from misunderstanding what that system is and how it compares to basic capitalism.


How is it different than any other sort of hobby or volunteering?


Most hobbies don’t provide potentially large financial upside to some corporation who is unwilling to give you something in return.

If my hobby is to bake cakes, there isn’t typically some corporation making money off my cakes.


If your hobby was making cake designs and you share them on the Internet to whomever wants them with a license that allows even businesses to use your designs then we are right back where we started.

That's still a perfectly valid hobby.

P.S. You give away your designs because everyone else does and you get this big collection of free cake designs to bake. That's worth more to you in your cake baking hobby than selling your designs and making it a business. Invariably someone comes along and sees all this huge body of cake designs and says "This collection is worth money, you should be rich" and completely misunderstands the whole situation.


Sure, but that’s a rather different hobby which may or may not be something you’re in to.

> That's still a perfectly valid hobby.

Of course. There are many hobbies which can financially support you, but there are lots of hobbies that don’t. Most hobbyist sports for example wouldn’t make anybody any money, but that’s fine, you do it for yourself. But the point I was making in my previous comment is that corporations aren’t making profits off the back of your hobby either.


If you build a chair, you have a single chair.

If you build some software, you can share that an infinite number of times.

That chair has value. Maybe you can sell it, but maybe you just wanted to make a really nice chair.

That software has value. Maybe you can sell it, but maybe you just wanted to make a really nice piece of software. But just because the software is infinitely copy-able doesn't make it worth infinite dollars.

That last point is really the only important one and it makes no difference, to me, as the developer. I just want to make cool software. It just so happens that software is infinitely copy-able and chairs are not. The production side is the same.


Well, sure, I’m not even really arguing that its a bad thing. Personally, any code I publish online, I put under the MIT license because I don’t really care if people use it commercially or not. Its also the same argument used to say “piracy” isn’t harmful.

I’m just pointing out that in open-source-as-a-hobby its very common that large corporations, who may or may not give back to the community themselves, derive profits off of hobbyist work while this is less common with other hobbies. Even if it doesn’t financially hurt the hobbyist, it can be demoralising (although others love it, so to each their own, I suppose — that’s why we have different licenses)


I don't think it's simultaneously fair to release code in an open source license that allows commercial use and then be demoralized by that commercial use. The problem there is clearly one's own.

Companies may use open source software but they don't directly or indirectly profit from it; they can only profit from the value they provide on top of it. Software that is free for everyone cannot be a distinguishing feature.

Contributing to open source software, even if used by for-profit entities, is increasing the total state-of-the-art for the entire industry. If you are demoralized by that then you probably want a job, not a hobby.


I don’t disagree, when I release under MIT, I’m basically saying “go ahead and do what you please under these simple terms”. I suppose this is why people release under GPLv3 or AGPL. I’m just trying to provide commentary on why I think people are bothered by commercial use without giving back. Ultimately, I think you’re right: if I release under a permissive license, I shouldn’t get upset if people use it.


I've seen a couple different camps of OSS. Some people do it to scratch their own itch. Like building a tool because it was fun to do or solved a problem the author had. This is the perfect case for OSS. People rarely care about reuse in this case.

The other case is a project desperately needed by the community and every corporation is making their own internal version of that code. No one really wants to commit the next 10 years of their life to it but someone eventually does sensing the need. The author gets many stars and forks but almost no money. Corporations then want to twist the library to their own specific needs while an individual or small team build a necessary tool but there's no business model. Then either a corporation adopts the repo to keep it going or the author tries to turn it into a business. Both of these outcomes rarely succeed for the wider needed but no one's really willing to pay for it.

These are super broad generalizations. The big problem seems to be when some software is really needed, someone steps in to build it and then no one pays them. Need != business model.


What makes you think a society relying on margin maximizing businesses is the better choice?


I'm not putting one above the other, I'm saying the right now you cannot live out of contribution. It's not a standalone option. I wish we could all contribute improvements, as you say, there are high chances that it would lead to a better society overall.


> Nobody is doing anything they don't want to do.

And yet, one party is making all the profit, and a different party is putting in all of the work. That seems like a non-ideal situation?


> Nobody is doing anything they don't want to do.

This is such a red herring. There are plenty of ways we can look at this situation that don't involve unreserved consent.


Hey, you chose to walk outside, you didn't have to walk under that piano being lifted into the apartment building with a weak rope.


I always liked this post by Erik Naggum:

    The whole idea that anything can be so "shared" as to have no value in itself is
    not a problem if the rest of the world ensures that nobody _is_ starving or
    needing money. For young people who have parents who pay for them or student
    grants or loans and basically have yet to figure out that it costs a hell of a
    lot of money to live in a highly advanced society, this is not such a bad idea.
    Grow up, graduate, marry, start a family, buy a house, have an accident, get
    seriously ill for a while, or a number of other very expensive things people
    actually do all the time, and the value of your work starts to get very real and
    concrete to you, at which point giving away things to be "nice" to some
    "community" which turns out not to be "nice" _enough_ in return that you will
    actually stay alive, is no longer an option.
(continues) https://www.xach.com/naggum/articles/3217750625724755@naggum...


Please don't quote with code blocks. For mobile users:

> The whole idea that anything can be so "shared" as to have no value in itself is not a problem if the rest of the world ensures that nobody _is_ starving or needing money. For young people who have parents who pay for them or student grants or loans and basically have yet to figure out that it costs a hell of a lot of money to live in a highly advanced society, this is not such a bad idea. Grow up, graduate, marry, start a family, buy a house, have an accident, get seriously ill for a while, or a number of other very expensive things people actually do all the time, and the value of your work starts to get very real and concrete to you, at which point giving away things to be "nice" to some "community" which turns out not to be "nice" _enough_ in return that you will actually stay alive, is no longer an option.


> Grow up, graduate, marry, start a family, buy a house

There's your problem. Don't shackle yourself to a system you already know doesn't care about you, then get upset when it's abusive.

- "Grown up" is a children's game (which somehow doesn't involve taking responsibility for them world), - you don't need college to learn or hone a skill, - you can love a person and not marry them, - you can't simultaneously dislike the world and justify bringing children into it, - and if you can't afford your house you can always sell it and live in a van.

Open Source Software is one of the few decent things people still do, even if the world they're doing it for is not.


This is incredibly insightful; particularly the final dig regarding an unwillingness to compensate others for their efforts.

It strikes me that the open source bounty model never really took off, and neither did the open source crowd funding model.

It's hard to convince users to contribute funding when many of them were drawn to your software _because_ it is free as in beer. Free2Play video games have struggled with this for years, and look at the state of monetization in that market: predatory gambling mechanics, digital storefronts tuned to maximize anxiety in purchasers, and so many hats.

Perhaps the future of open source funding is in selling personalization customizations, somehow.


This whole argument is built on the premise that when you fall ill for a while or have an accident, nobody will help you and you'll die instead (I guess they didn't mean it so literally, but that's what the text says). As far as I know, this is actually false in every part of the world that can afford it except for the USA. You may not earn a lot while ill, government support isn't everything, but roughly a thousand bucks a month plus medical expenses paid isn't peanuts.


I think you haven't read the other paragraphs. Please do so if you haven't.

But nevertheless, contrary to some open source developers, doctors are not giving their labour force for free nor living below the poverty line. The value of a doctor is very clear to our society and in Europe we happily pay our taxes to keep the universal healthcare system running. The value of software on the other hand is decreasing.


There is, in fact, an excellent charity called Doctors Without Borders who are all about doctors giving their labour force for much less than society would generally value it for. They're not the majority of doctors, just like the majority of software engineers are not charitably motivated open source developers. They are, however, doing immensely valuable work serving people who would otherwise not have a shot at getting any sort of proper treatment.


Let's turn your analogy around. Are you complaining that there aren't more hobbyists dabbling in medicine without licenses nor viable careers? Or that society doesn't actively pursue and arrest programmers for doing similarly...?

There are countless developers making successful careers out of it, just like medical doctors. In addition, there are many more successes on a spectrum that includes the programming equivalent of GPs, nurses, paramedics, pharmacists, drug store clerks, pot farmers, herbalists, dietitians, mothers dispensing band-aids and kisses, and aged boy scouts who happen to be in just the right place at the right time to save someone's life with first-aid.

There are countless activities in life that may or may not have viable business plans behind them. What sets programming apart from doctors and other service-based industries is that our work product is trivially replicated and shared by others. Look to literature, music, theater, and cinema for metaphors about the roles and compensation of content producers in culture and society.


I'd never heard of Erik Naggum before but his wikipedia entry makes him sound interesting as hell-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_Naggum


Erik Naggum is such a legend and it's truly a tragedy that he is gone, and also that we really no longer have any technologists of his calibre.

I saw a conversation on twitter the other day about how great XML is and why we should use it more and realized that even if I posted Erik's classic take on this, it would only mean reactionary outbursts. I wonder how many people would even understand his arguments about SGML today?


“The catastrophic Heartbleed bug of 2014, which compromised the security of hundreds of millions of sites, was caused by a problem in an open-source library called OpenSSL, which relied on a single full-time developer not making a mistake as they updated and changed that code, used by millions.”

And the catastrophic Specter and Meltdown bugs show that private code doesn’t prevent this sort of thing either...


Yes, the OpenSSL dustup led to this amusing article: The Internet Is Being Protected By Two Guys Named Steve [1] ... the more serious point being, at the time, massive pieces of the internet owed their security to two unpaid/underpaid developers on two different continents.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7657571


Global Standards can be included in that list, here is one example called Signalling System 7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signalling_System_No._7#Protoc...

Caller ID uses a protocol used by dial up modems, which means the telecoms hardware supporting it, is in effect, a dialup modem which makes life easier for security services to remotely access systems once they have updated the firmware on telecoms hardware, for a persistent backdoor.


I would never rely on Caller ID, particularly for something like that. Modems have had callback for decades: call up, identify yourself, the connection is dropped and the system dials a stored number for that ID and the connection is set up for the session.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callback_(telecommunications)#...


Yes, I thought that was a weird jab at the maintainer of OpenSSL...


It was absolutely not the maintainer's "fault", which seems like it should have been clearly illustrated by them making the point that there was one developer?

The whole point is that tons of companies relied on OpenSSL but none of them were stepping up to the plate and funding its maintenance to the point of there being multiple maintainers, so it all fell on that one maintainer's shoulders.

Of course after the shit hit the fan those companies had a change of heart and... forked it. Learning the wrong lessons as usual

I recall reading a couple articles in the past about how NTP was (is?) maintained by one full-time developer who barely broke even on doing it, despite the fact that massive chunks of internet infrastructure rely on it. There's money and personnel out there who could be contributing to infra like OpenSSL and NTP and very often it seems like nobody cares enough to fund it.


The best situation is many independent people vetting code and new versions before it is used somewhere. I wrote this 7 years ago:

http://magarshak.com/blog/?p=114


Not just open-source maintainers but also moderators.

A bad thing about moderators is that nowadays they tend to be immature teens, it's one of the reasons Reddit content quality has been going down in the past few years.

It also creates some moral questions, as companies with giant revenues are outsourcing their internet janitor duties to naive unpaid child labourers


In my experience with moderators on Reddit, is that they are power driven adults who still act like teens.


It's the Stanford problem, but not everybody succumbs to the allure of power. We see it pretty much everywhere, like on IRC, where power-madness is an expected consequence of giving someone ops in a channel. You win some and you lose some, moderation isn't "set it and forget it," you have to remove some and acquire others from time to time.


> moderation isn't "set it and forget it," you have to remove some and acquire others from time to time.

A great point. Succinctly, the moderators need moderators.


The sad thing about aging - the body and mind (metaphysical mind, not the brain itself) don't necessarily age at the same rate.


When I first got on the internet 20 years ago, moderators were all teens, too. But I didn't notice because I was also a teenager. Then I grew up, and those mods for too, and we all went on to different things. Going back to the forums, it's just a different set of teens. It was always immature. What changed was that I matured.


I believe redesign is the single largest contributor to Reddit's decline. It went from text-based site (like HN is at the moment) to image-based site.


You can get around this, though via https://old.reddit.com and, in Preferences, disable thumbnails, image previews, and "allow subreddits to show me custom themes."


Sadly, that doesn't change how others see the site: they're still guided towards consuming and contributing image-based content.


You can get around it for now. They may pull the plug


I think (mainstream) Reddit content is something completely different; more like big clumps of PR firms employed by corporations and lobbying groups bitbotting around with nation states, all fighting and agreeing with each other and trying to build false consensus. Source IP analysis there is probably pretty interesting.


Yeah, that's not even remotely true.

Have you ever worked with a PR firm or talked to folks that work at one. Have you ever worked at a large company, or talked to people who manage social media at one? They are very far from this level of coordination. Most can't even manage to deploy a properly measured ad campaign, much less some kind of op sec driven Reddit content campaign.


It's possible 99% of PR/marketing firms don't have armies of Reddit/Twitter bot accounts, while at the same time the 1% that do make up a big power base on Reddit.

There are plenty of companies doing things like SEO and suchlike that build up networks of websites/content farms, and bots to comment on blogs and suchlike. Not much of a jump from bots commenting links on blogs to bots commenting more subtle messages on Reddit.


There is no 1% of PR firms that have Reddit/Twitter bot armies, that's a crazy conspiracy theory.

There are also plenty of companies that are "doing things like SEO" but none of them run networks of interconnected websites that they all control or content farms because those tactics stopped fooling Google over a decade ago.


This. You don’t need to orchestrate mob-like behavior on Reddit, it’s already full of people who like mobbing. The most outside interference you need is (maybe) privately stoking a few radicals to action and letting them inspire the rest of the mob.


I assumed from the headline that this would be about moderators. Given how major sites depend on them, and how many forums there are strewn about the internet, the total man years of free labor must be enormous.


i see your point, but it also brings about something like where certain people see quality degrading, and go off to make their own subreddit/community like /r/truereddit or /r/truetruereddit, etc.

it's an interesting phenomenon and am curious as to whether its better this way, or actually making things worse.


I think if things worked purely that way and everything was completely transparent it would be fine but there's a few things that muddy the waters

1) Moderators create alternate accounts and gobble up offshoots. They'll either have multiple mod accounts so they can "step down" and pass power to themselves when opinion rallies against them or they straight up seed themselves throughout reddit as moderators to dozens of communities

2) How do you spread the word when moderators have final word on what's posted in the "main" subreddit? Say there's an uprising in some obscure fandom and fans want a new place to correlate outside of the moderator's rule; how do they spread the word to the community efficiently that they exist when there's only one main hub for that fandom currently and the moderators silence anything (often with the AutoMod) that reference the new community?

---

I think public moderation in general is good. But the tools for the community to branch out are often lacking and when moderator power-tripping crosses a line there's no outlet for members to reach Admins who will objectively weigh the facts and act on complaints.


Or worse, a corporation secretly pays mods to let spam pass and delete dissent.


Edit: very interesting that this post is getting downvoted. I didn't even say anything controversial, just that banning people is bad. Exactly the danger we face online, which will eventually get into broader society.

I got banned on a platform for saying a public figure was physically attractive to me. Prior to that, I had engaged in a perfectly factual discussion about certain statistics that were in favor of a particular political position. There is no doubt in my mind that I was flagged for having a political position (to clarify: I didn't actually have the position, I was just posting statistics that supported that position).

I like HN's approach to moderation. You don't ban the person unless they are really unreasonable. You flag the comment, disappear it from the thread and tell them to behave. I also like Gab's approach which is: if it's not illegal and you don't like it, then just block them from your feed.

The wholesale banning of people for single statements that are generally taken out of context is emblematic of cancel culture and it isn't surprising to me that "hacker news" is more nuanced and understands that people are not one statement or one act.


> I like HN's approach to moderation. You don't ban the person unless they are really unreasonable. You flag the comment, disappear it from the thread and tell them to behave.

That does happen, but HN also silently rate-limits and downrates comments for people that have been flagged as troublemakers by the mods.

I'm currently rate-limited on HN to no more than five comments in a period of, I think, several hours. Trying to post more often produces a cryptic error message that I honestly thought was a bug. I eventually messaged the mods and was told that I must have done something disruptive (they couldn't tell me what) and they'd restore my privileges if I'd promise to stop doing that (which I can't do in good conscience without knowing what "it" was). I received no warning before this began.

They said the obfuscation was necessary because, if I were a troll or a spammer, I'd just create a new account or three if I realized I was being restricted.

I don't claim to be a perfect commenter. I know I've let emotion get the better of me on occasion, and it's fair to want to rein that in. But I think it's clear from my history that I'm posting in good faith, at the very least. Treating me like a malicious abuser benefits no one.


Interesting. I guess I haven't yet gone against the opinions of the moderators so I haven't yet faced this problem.

I guess gab is the way to go. Block others from your view if you disagree, not from the platform.


I am, I have come to believe, in the exact same situation as you, except that I have never contacted the moderators. My account is even almost exactly the same age as your account. It’s very disheartening to hear that contacting the moderators, which I have considered doing, will apparently accomplish nothing.


It's worth a try, anyway. You might get a different mod with a different response, or you might be okay with making a non-specific promise to behave better.

(The error I get is "You're posting too fast. Please slow down. Thanks.", if that sounds familiar.)


Yes, that’s the message I get too.


Don’t kid yourself — moderation is done with an editorial goal in mind, and HN is no different. There are plenty of topics about which the mods will shut down discussion. It’s just that HN’s moderation is more consistent and less emotional/political than your average subreddit.


That wasn't my point. Editorializing is fine, what is problematic is outright banning.


You can treat it like an “emblem of cancel culture” and if you’re right.

It’s also an emblem for “people doing things other people don’t like and getting ditched for it” but which emblem you choose to see is up to you.

That’s kind of the power and the weakness of emblems.


There is, I think, a fairly sharp line between you deciding you don't want to interact with someone in some particular forum, and someone else deciding you can't interact with someone.

That line is not the line between "good" and "bad", necessarily. I'm just saying it's a relevant difference that shouldn't be blurred away.


I'm sorry but I don't see any dichotomy in the two situations you've described. Cancel culture is literally people getting ditched because some people didn't like what some people did. That is, sticks and stones may break my bones but words are terrorism.


I didn’t claim a dichotomy I said they’re both true.


I see it as emblematic of weak people who don't want to ever be exposed to anything disagreeable. Why can't the whole world be sunshine and unicorns?


There aren't a lot of totally free, open-source, end user products. In the 90s FOSS devs though one day GiMP would surpass Photoshop, we'd see Linux on at least 8% ~ 10% of laptops at coffee shops, Inkscape would be better than Illustrator, etc.

Today, a lot of FOSS is corporate sponsored. But it's not end-product. It's all middleware. Hophop/Hack, Lightbend libraries like Slick, React, etc. It's all to help you build things to interact with the big commercial players.

Yes there is still a lot of FOSS that's small, 1 ~ 5 people maintainers that's volunteer. But there is a considerable about that's corporate backed. We're a far cry from the FOSS hope of the 90s. I wrote about this a few years back:

https://penguindreams.org/blog/the-philosophy-of-open-source...


In the 90s we thought open-source was countercultural. It was something you did to be part of a community, to be elite, to show those big dummies at Microsoft you didn't need them.

Today it's something you do to show Microsoft they need you, because today Bill Gates is the world's nicest old man, big companies are safer than the state, and nobody needs any individual person anymore.

It's happened with many other things. For example, early in the last century, journalism was something you did because you didn't want the powers that be to be the only ones heard, and today, well. In the 70s, popular culture was something you engaged with because you didn't want money to be the end-all of your life, and today, well.

It doesn't make open source (or writing or talking about music you like) a bad thing. It's just eventually adults who have money adopt things you like and adulthood and money change people. And when that happens it's not necessarily a loss. Counterculture becomes mainstream after it's _won_. In a lot of ways Linux won, and it _is_ on most people's daily computers today, even though that computer doesn't have a keyboard.

I wish I knew a kid today like I was then, though. A kid that doesn't want mainstream stuff, a kid who thinks we've all got it wrong, a kid who could tell me I don't get it. Because I'm sure I don't "get it" the way adults didn't get it in the 90s: I just don't know what "it" is anymore.


Hi, that’s easy. It = Youtube. Details:

It = feminism and men’s rights. I don’t know where is the crux of it, but nothing adds up about it: Feminist studies are all disproved one by one (remember wage gap?) and storytelling keeps making people believe women are unequal, which _isn’t true_ by far.

It’s Brexit. It’s Trump. Again, storytelling makes people believe they’re bad although careful study shows... least I say, the opposite. Storytelling.

It’s the state. People, especially in Europe believe in the state like they believed in God in 1100: The state is the source of all goods, it represents the people’s general will, and no matter how you show them this isn’t the case, they believe in it so much that we’ll need a Galileo Galilei to shake them off their beliefs. We’ll have to disprove this belief in the state like we had to disprove the belief in God in 1630.

If there’s something you underestimate, it’s the culture shift represented by Youtube, in which youngsters devote themselves. Youtube is a great way to present an idea and link to sources. Show a document on screen and link to sources. Everyone can present a trial of a false idea on Youtube and disprove it. That’s what’s happening for feminism. For Brexit. For Trump. For Kavanaugh. For the Iraki war. For Bachar el Assad. You don’t get Youtube ;) Those answers lie in all the deleted channels of Youtube (ex: “Soph”’s deleted channel, available on Bitchute). You say people engaged in journalism in 1900 because they didn’t want the powers that be to be the only ones heard. Now you have a full generation of Gen Z kids, 13 years old, already able to denounce the storytelling that doesn’t add up, built by mainstream media, movies, school, newspapers. It is sweeping. You _don’t_ get it :D

I’m kidding of course, because chances are you do understand where they’re coming from. But chances are you’ve built mental barriers to prevent from acknowledging their points too, like “muh fake news I only trust CNN”, but so did conservatives in 1969 couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that the Generation X could use a bit more social freedom than their parents. Older people never understand the big changes, because they had reasons to believe they were incorrect.


My perception was always that the FOSS hopes of GiMP, Inkscape, etc flopped mainly because nobody in FOSS put work into UI/UX. So, it kind of makes sense that FOSS found a niche somewhere that UI/UX didn't matter.


Blender has also made huge strides in UI/UX in the past year, it actually feels like a proprietary product now, which will give it a much bigger chance in industry.

> So, it kind of makes sense that FOSS found a niche somewhere that UI/UX didn't matter.

I wonder if there can be a push for UI/UX designers to contribute to open source Projects, I'm sure there's people out there who want to contribute...


GiMP UI/UX has actually improved a lot over where it was just a few years ago.


I think it may be in part because UI is very transient. Trends come and go very quickly. Well-made libraries can last a very very long time though as programs that work well are always in fashion.


It's great that corporates pay developers for writing open source software! I'm much happier today about open source than in 90ies, when no one was getting paid for writing it.


Inkscape didn't exist in the 90s....


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