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Ask HN: Do you find it unethical to monetize open source like this?
8 points by alien_ 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 6 comments
A few years ago I started a relatively successful open source project (https://autospotting.org) designed to save its users a lot of money on AWS bills while being lightweight, easy to use and adopt.

I had a full-time job and I worked on it countless nights and weekends, developing it entirely in the open and not asking for anything in return. Hundreds of users started to use it and a few even contributed significant amount of code and it matured to eventually become production-grade.

A couple of years later my child was born and I had a hard time justifying spending time on it instead of spending it with my wife and son. I thought about it a lot and eventually decided to monetise it on Patreon and treat it as a mini-job. I'd be spending on it roughly as much time as I get from it on a monthly basis, considering my usual hourly rate, hoping to one day ramp it up enough to actually become a full-time job (currently at $450/month, so still quite far from this goal).

In order to give some additional value to to my patrons, I decided to start testing selected builds that I only announce as stable releases in private to my patrons.

So I keep developing it in the open, I just don't create public releases of the open source code.

I've recently seen someone say this about my project:

"For somebody who works in OSS software, incl. commercial OSS, it is painful to see such an blatant, unethical approach to monetisation https://autospotting.org

'Our code is really shit, but if you give us money, we'll give you a less shit version'

This is not the spirit of OSS"

https://twitter.com/matthewfellows/status/1197013237222391808

So what do you folks think about this?




No, there's nothing unethical about that at all. In fact, it's a quite common approach. For a long time, it was actually very uncommon for many "commercial OSS" projects to release binaries that you didn't have to pay for... JBoss were one of the first major players I recall doing that early on.

Anyway, if the code is open and developed in the open, and they have the ability to build from source if they want, then nobody really has any standing to call you unethical for not providing tested builds for free.


Maybe just be more rigorous: Provide builds only for people who pay.

I've seen such an option many times in former days where you could buy a binary or build the source code your own. The advantage was then that you didn't have to invest time into building.

Your current plans are more honest, probably too honest. Remove one "free" option so there are only two options left, one free, one paid.


I tried this for a while but it decreased user adoption a lot so I added it back but with a savings limit of $1000/month.

Looks like most people don't seem to want to build it from source and it deters them to use it if I don't provide easy to install binaries.

It also also impacted negatively the conversions to paid users, people who convert seem to try the free binaries first and update to the paid version if they need to get above the $1000 monthly savings limit or they want the peace of mind to be on stable builds. I then charge them $29 monthly for the stable and unlocked version that I have also tested.

I also experimented with various pricing tiers and decided to settle to this for simplicity.


Ignore the haters. You add value by creating releases and that value can be compensated with money. It doesn't look like you keep others from creating releases.

It could be better worded on the website, for example create two websites, one for open source, one for commercial. Like http://www.haproxy.org/ vs http://www.haproxy.com/ Seeing open source right next to the pricing might put people off. Again, I think it's just wording and keeping the sections separate. Those who want everything free are hard to please.


Thank you for the encouraging words, I'll try to make the distinction more clear.

Initially I thought to use sidekiq as an example, they run only on an .org but indeed seem to have better separation between their OSS and commercial bits.


> 'Our code is really shit, but if you give us money, we'll give you a less shit version'

I wonder how this OSS SJW feels about first-class vs. coach.




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