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Author Topic: Fairware: an interesting experiment in getting paid for Open Source  (Read 22520 times)
mwb1100
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« on: September 09, 2011, 02:27:55 PM »

While reading some forum postings at the Sublime Text Editor site, I came across a pointer to an experiment that the developer at hardcoded.net  is running in something he calls "Fairware": http://open.hardcoded.net/.

How does Fairware work? All hours developers invest in projects are public, as well as their hourly rate expectations. All contributions from fair users are also instantly made public (anonymously). When contributions are made, they are allocated to unpaid development hours (see the F.A.Q. for details). Everyone can thus easily know how many hours have yet to be compensated. Also, users are made aware that the software is Fairware with a dialog that pops up for users who haven't contributed yet, reminding them of expectations from developers. With enough fair users, such a system allows open source developers working on software for a wide audience to do so full time. I don't know about you, but I find that awesome.

Of course, since the software is open source, you could build a version without the nag.  But it seems most (or at least enough) people aren't interested in bypassing the nag that way.

It looks like hardcoded.net has been doing this for about a year, and it appears to be more or less successful.  The applications look interesting enough that I may give a couple a go.  Also, there's a bunch of information and statistics about the Fairware concept itself (including stats on hours spent working on the software and the donations/payments received in return).

Interesting stuff.
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wraith808
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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2011, 02:56:58 PM »

I like this!  None of the software really appeals to me unfortunately, but I might contribute just to support the idea.  I wish we could get something like that going here in as an addition to the donation credits system.
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mouser
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2011, 03:03:05 PM »

Verry interesting.. time to go check out how the unpaid hours thing is tracked and how donations are divied up -- that has always been the part i've been unsure how to handle when you are talking about multiple authors of an open source project.

We need to support efforts like this  thumbs up
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40hz
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« Reply #3 on: September 09, 2011, 07:48:01 PM »

It is an interesting approach. But I still think it's largely preaching to the choir.

From my experience, the general software using public doesn't care how much work or effort has gone into something. They generally expect to be charged for software. And, if given the opportunity, they'll often try to find a way to "borrow" a copy rather than pay for it. Which is why the so-called "honor system" doesn't work very well. This is something the Association of Shareware Professionals learned back in the 80s: If you don't REQUIRE a payment, you'd best not expect to be paid.

The Free Software crowd got around it by basically saying: Screw it! Here's some software. Use it..

There was a certain subtext in there that also that said: It would be really cool if those of you people who are using it could throw some dollars our way so we can continue to develop and refine this thing. But after that, they stopped worrying about it. And if enough people didn't help support their efforts, they stopped developing. It was pure Darwinism: Software which filled a genuine need got supported and survived. Software which didn't (or was of limited or special interest) either continued on as the self-supported  'hobby' project it was - or shut down.

At the core of this was the realization of a simple truth: People (mostly) only pay for what they need. They're far less likely (and willing) to pay for stuff they merely want. And, if given the opportunity to avoid paying at all, about 98% of the people out there won't. Which is why Microsoft developed Genuine Advantage - and we get to live with all the nonsense various other DRM mechanisms put us through.

What Fairware boils down to is yet another form of crowd-sourced project financing. But  this time with a fairly interesting and complex (and IMO slightly self-righteous) allocation system for distributing whatever funding is received.

 If experience is anything to go by, there won't be much to distribute for most projects.

I personally think Fairware is a great idea. Smacks a little bit of "old wine in a new bottle" but so what?  I wish them all the luck in the world getting it to fly. Thmbsup

But I also personally believe it's doomed.  Sad

(And I sincerely hope I'm wrong about that.)  smiley




« Last Edit: September 09, 2011, 07:52:56 PM by 40hz » Logged

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MilesAhead
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« Reply #4 on: September 09, 2011, 09:53:04 PM »

"Do what you love and the money will follow"

Well, it worked for Willie Sutton. smiley
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« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2011, 03:10:40 AM »

I did not try the software, but from the description it does not seem an attractive model to me, because:
* The software needs connection to the internet to check, whether the project is fully paid for or if there still are unpaid hours to show or not show the nag screen.
* As a donator, even if you paid a large amount, you still experience the nag screen if the project is not fully paid or if the developer throws in additional hours. Maybe I am wrong here and there is a mechanism in place that checks if you have paid enough to not show you the nag screen, but how much is enough (sounds like a fixed price)? Someone likely ends up repeatedly paying for almost all of the work, because they cannot stand the nag screen. Paid software at least tries to equalize the cost for all users (btw if someone managed to find an even more fair way - paying according the benefits the software brings - and keep the system simple and scalable, they would make a fortune).
* Some groups of users do not care how many hours were invested in the past, or do not care about donating at all.
* Creating the tracking system and entering every task into it is an additional work most freeware developers do not enjoy (I hate reporting).

Also, I agree with almost everything, 40hz said. Freeware cannot survive indefinitely without a way for the developer to break even.

Mouser and many others here do it right by creating lots of small single-purpose utilities for the right kind of audience. They are not so big investments and over the years, the donations have a chance to cover the expenses.

For larger projects, only few managed to bring in millions (like Firefox via google ads on its home page). Yet another way is to let someone with business interests sponsor your project. Is is really "freeware" in that case?

For other projects (mid-size without a sponsor), I fear there are only 2 ways: slowly die due to lost interest or become a paid software. Not sure, which one is worse.

« Last Edit: September 10, 2011, 03:15:08 AM by vlastimil » Logged
rgdot
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« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2011, 07:58:09 AM »

I am going on a bit of a tangent but something vlastimil said reminds me of an annoyance or gripe I have. Freeware that goes shareware. To me a person who starts a serious project should expect to put a lot of hours in it, actually the success of the product or license has nothing to do with it. What I am saying is that if you decide to go freeware when you are at 0.1 alpha doesn't mean less hours are needed to reach 1.0.
Fairware is not all that different from donationware, we have all seen one workable implementation. It has the potential to work in this modified way.
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hsoft
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« Reply #7 on: September 10, 2011, 08:11:45 AM »

Hi there, the author speaking. I found this thread through my web server logs, and I love to discuss about fairware, can I jump in?

I'd like to address some points which, I humbly think, are misunderstandings.

1. Nag screen & internet connection

When you contribute any amount (minimum 5$ though), you receive a registration key allowing you to remove the nag and the internet check even if not all hours have been compensated for the project. The thought behind this is: you did your part, no need to nag you anymore.

The internet connection isn't required to use fairware programs for non-contributors (and of course, for contributors too). If you're not connected, the program assumes 0 hours and thus doesn't show a nag.

Of course, a smartass can simply disable his internet connection before launching a fairware app and never be nagged, but I figure that if you're gonna give yourself the trouble to do that, you're never gonna contribute anyway, so go ahead smiley

2. Users won't contribute unless they're forced to

I used to think so and I even explain why in an article introducing a previous pseudo-open-source effort two years ago (fairware is one year old). The article is at http://www.hardcoded.net/...les/going_open_source.htm

However, I revisited the argument in the fairware introductory article from last year ( http://www.hardcoded.net/...eech-fair-as-in-trade.htm ) and I made the hypothesis that rather than being greedy, the user is rather lazy. By making the "do I contribute?" decision easy to take, I think fairware makes the fair user (there's nothing to do about unfair users, so we might as well let them be and ignore them) more likely to contribute. I also think that there's enough fair users out there to fund a development effort.

The nag screen is annoying and is a good incentive to contribute (Isn't it what Winzip, despite being closed source, used back in its glory days?). Of course, since it's open source, someone can  always maintain a nagless fork out of spite, but such thing requires efforts, so I think such an possibility is unlikely.

3. Not gonna work

The thing is that fairware has been running for a year and it kinda works ( http://www.hardcoded.net/...irware-it-kinda-works.htm ). The problem is that I can't unequivocally show it because only one of my 3 apps, dupeGuru, really works, contribution-wise.

moneyGuru never worked, even when it was closed source, so the problem isn't the fairware model. In fact, the money I received monthly for it when it was closed source was close to what I get now, in "fairware mode", that is a mere 200$.

My 3rd app, PdfMasher, is spanking new and not known yet, so the contributions don't compensate my development investment yet, but I think it might. Current users find it really cool. Monthly contributions are low, but the progression is encouraging.

dupeGuru, however, is a success. It was already a success when it was closed source, and it stayed that way as fairware. The only problem is that I don't pour enough hours in it, so it's really rare that there's hours to compensate, which means that the nag screen never shows up for anyone.

But when I pour hours in, the money comes in quite fast. For example, I uploaded a backlog of about 10 hours (350$ worth) 36 hours ago, and it's all paid now. Even for closed source, 350$ in 36 hours for a single developer app ain't bad. Over the past year, dupeGuru only got 12,000$ of contributions, which isn't so great (but, I think, better than most donation-based open source projects), but that's because I didn't work on it much. I'm confident that if I invested more hours in it, they'd be paid.

What's even cooler is that dupeGuru is much more popular since it's open source because it's mentioned it tons of blogs, which wasn't the case before. That must make my closed source competitors sad smiley

Conclusion

I think I addressed all criticisms from the messages that have been posted yet, I hope I didn't miss any. That being said, I don't claim that fairware is without flaws, so if you want to continue the discussion, I'd be glad to do so as well.

EDIT: typo
« Last Edit: September 10, 2011, 08:46:05 AM by hsoft » Logged
Ath
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« Reply #8 on: September 10, 2011, 08:52:09 AM »

Hi there, the author speaking. I found this thread through my web server logs, and I love to discuss about fairware, can I jump in?

Hi there hsoft, welcome to the site, and welcome to the discussion thumbs up
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app103
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« Reply #9 on: September 10, 2011, 10:00:13 AM »

Hi hsoft and welcome to the site. Seems we have some common thoughts here with regards to getting users to voluntarily contribute to supporting the software they use.

We have our own One Year Report that you may find interesting.

And some of our larger software projects take a similar approach with encouraging users to donate, by way of temporary licenses that require the user to come back to the site every 6 months, or a donation of any amount granting the user a non-expiring license for any and all of our software.

And many thought our approach wouldn't work, and we have had our own share of criticisms, but it has been 6 years and we are still here and growing.
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mouser
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« Reply #10 on: September 10, 2011, 10:14:14 AM »

EDIT: Looks like App beat me to posting some details but i'll leave my post unchanged.



Looks like I'm going to spend part of today reading the articles at http://www.hardcoded.net/articles/ -- looks like great reading  thumbs up

Welcome to the site hsoft!

It sounds like your approach is working, and shares a lot in common with the approach we've followed here.  You can read the 2006 article I wrote about our approach here.

Some similarities I see:
  • Assessing the problem: We both agree that users not donating has little to do with not being willing to pay, and more to do with not wanting to go through the hassle of paying; i think laziness is only half the equation -- the other is that they view paying as too high a financial risk compared to the benefits.
  • Dealing with people who actively want to circumvent the system: Solution = Don't worry about it, it's not important.
  • License Key: We both use a license key for contributors to bypass a nag reminder to donate.

Some differences that are very interesting

Nag screen and non-contributors:

In our programs (that use license key system), we offer a free license key even to people who do not contribute.  They can either download a 60 day key anonymously, or a 6 month key by signing up at the forum.  This has been the source of quite a bit of confusion and hand wringing.  But it's also a way that we maintain that our software is genuinely free for all, and avoid having a nag screen shown on each use.

In your case, you always show a nag screen to non-contributors (as long as their are unpaid hours).  This is quite interesting actually.  Based on my informal experience, i suspect this is a huge part of getting donations.

I think if we did that we would greatly increase the number of donations.  Perhaps by several orders of magnitude.  The reality is that a nag screen on every startup of program is a much stronger incentive to contribute than any please we might make.

However, in our case, with closed source -- the closed source freeware community would very likely decide that this turns the software from freeware into shareware.  I think i would take issue with that and would probably argue that "nagware" shareware is designed to really nag and annoy the user while they use their software (making it largely a requirement to contribute to peacefully use the software) -- it's a hard argument to make.

And i suspect that most of our freeware site friends would disown us.  Your case is somewhat different because at that same time that you are "inflicting" non-contributor users with a nag on startup, you are providing the source code that would theoretically allow them to modify the code and remove it; and because you fall into the open source camp and not the freeware camp, you don't have the same kind of complaints and culture that objects so strenuously to the idea of a nag screen.  Which leads to the open source difference..

Open Source Difference

The most obvious difference is of course the fact that your programs are Open Source while our license-key applications (mostly mine) are closed source.  This is the part that I am very interested in because it's an issue I've struggled with.  I have some open source projects on DonationCoder but they don't really get donations and I don't really push for them on those tools, largely because I've not though it practical or worth the effort.

It's heartening for me to see independent open source projects like yours succeed in getting funding.  I have written before that i lay much of the blame at how hard this is on the open source *culture* which i view as tragically not putting any energy into cultivating a culture of users financially supporting open source projects.  To me it seems that open source funding is another example of a scenario where only a couple giant projects get all the funding, and where 3rd parties are figuring out how to scoop up all the potential available funding for a project, usually by providing pay-for-support of someone else's code.

To me the best future world we could move towards is one where digital content (music, software, art) is all free and generously supported by optional user-chosen donations.  But to do that it requires (in addition to easier and safer donation making) a shift in culture that emphasizes the importance of supporting such creators.  I find it tragic that the open source community didn't/doesn't embrace this as one of the core tenants of open source.

But back to the details that I think are interesting about your experience.. First, you talk about my concern with doing open source donationware-type software, the prospect of someone forking your software and starting a new project without the nag screens or where they put their own nag screen redirecting donations to them.  Basically you have said that it could happen but doesn't -- or hasn't so far -- perhaps primarily because it's too much effort for someone to do.  I think for the most part your analysis is probably correct -- that it's more of a theoretical problem than a practical one.  However, I do wonder whether the likelyhood of such a thing happening starts to go up dramatically as the popularity of a program increases, and as you have more developers.  So i really do still wonder about this fundamental forking problem when thinking about open source software as donationware.

Dealing with software projects where there are many developers:

I find myself drawn to your basic approach -- which is to say that author contributors keep track of their hours and payments get split among the unpaid hours of the developers.  However this is another case where i worry about your approach scaling up when you start to have many developers and perhaps some that disagree about direction. I do note that on your page listing developers that for all intents and purposes it's just you.  It may be a case where i'm worrying more about theoretical problems rather than technical ones, but on the other hand I am interested in finding a theoretically solution that would scale up and be something that could be advocated for large projects and which one could feel safe about it not becoming unmanageable.

More thoughts later..
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mouser
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« Reply #11 on: September 10, 2011, 10:18:55 AM »

Two suggestions:
  • On the contribute page, make a way to let user send a general contribution not tied to a specific product.
  • Let users add a comment to the paypal payment (there is a flag for this when setting up paypal details).
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hsoft
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« Reply #12 on: September 10, 2011, 12:37:02 PM »

Exciting times! After having read your one-year-of-donationware article, it seems like we agree completely on the underlying issues of software development, ethics and money. The only difference seems to be in the approach, and although I place more importance in the source being open than you apparently do, I like the donationware approach too. I wish I had known about this site sooner.

I, too, am unsure of whether the fairware approach scales. I wish other developers participated in the projects I started so I could know whether it scales, but they don't. Why? I'm not sure. There's the language, Python, which is not as widely known as C#/Java/etc., but I'm not sure it's the reason. I wish I knew. Now all I can do is speculate.

So if I had to speculate about the "forking" issue, I'd say that the "danger" is unlikely, even at a bigger scale. I see two possibilities for forking:

1. Out of spite. For some reason, the user really dislike the nag and, out of spite, creates a fork. Well, not only does that person need to spend time building the app for all platforms, but he also has to promote his fork, which unless you spend money in advertisement, can only be done in the long term. Long term means that for every release the original developer makes, you have to merge the improvements and re-build and release. The guy (or gal) would need to have a lot of spite.

2. For profit. The license is BSD (except for PdfMasher because I integrated GPL code, so it's GPL). It's perfectly legal to create a closed source package out of it. However, unless they make significant improvements or spend a lot of money in advertising, I don't see why the users would choose this fork over the original. Moreover, I openly welcome developers and offer them to log their time so they can be paid for it. The only possibility I see is if a developer want to introduce a feature I don't want, or if I don't like the code style, or if for some reason I reject the participation. But then, the fork would have legitimate reasons to exist.

About the two suggestions: I doubt that they'd work with fairware. With this site, I have no doubt that many people make donations to the site "in general", but I think it's unlikely to happen to fairware since it's not a big community like donationcoder is.

All that being said, I'm all fired up and excited because of the many similarities between our approach and I'm pondering about possible cooperations. I've got to think about it some more...
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mouser
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« Reply #13 on: September 10, 2011, 01:03:41 PM »

I suspect you are right about the low-risk of forking.

There is an interesting psychological phenomena at work when thinking about this stuff -- Some people have a really easy time in dealing rationally with a situation where the practical and likely risk is very different from a high-cost low-probability worst case possibility.  I am usually very good at that and generally give little thought to worst case scenarios.  But I must admit that in terms of forking in open source, for some reason i find myself dwelling on it.  I'm not exactly sure why, but it's the one part of open source that i still struggle with.

I think perhaps part of my struggle with it has to do with your points which i think are exactly right:
Quote
and, out of spite, creates a fork. Well, not only does that person need to spend time building the app for all platforms, but he also has to promote his fork, which unless you spend money in advertisement, can only be done in the long term.... unless they make significant improvements or spend a lot of money in advertising, I don't see why the users would choose this fork over the original. "

I think this is right -- but it may also help explain why psychologically i worry about forking -- which is that i find promotion/marketing/advertising so painful and uncomfortable and unpleasant, and the mere idea of finding myself in a situation where i have to try to make the case that people should stick with my original version over a fork is enough to make me ill.

And i also get very angry with the possibility of 3rd parties making a large profit off of someone else's hard programming work.. Much like lawsuits, my fear is that the primary thing keeping predatory forkers away is these cases is that there isn't enough profit to make it worth while.  Practically speaking perhaps this means that one shouldn't worry about it.  But it's hard for me to not think about running into one greedy or angry person who could cause real turmoil.

I think my other trepidation with forking has to do with a larger bias in open source.  Stallman and other focus nearly exclusively on maximizing the rights and benefits of the users of the software, and give very little concern to the authors.  When I was at university this seemed completely right to me -- what did i care about raising funding or donations for my code -- i wasn't trying to make a living on it, and there were so many other reasons to want to create useful and popular software.

But if you want to move to a model where programmers can actually receive enough direct contributions to survive (no one is talking about getting rich), i find the lack of concern with author's rights to be troubling.  Practically speaking i think this issue rarely comes up (though there have been a few noteworthy forks that have occurred despite adamant protests from the original coder).  But i still find myself wondering if there isn't some way to adjust the forking-rights commonly present in open source so that it still protects users but gives some protection to authors that want to maintain some control of their software...  And some way of building in protection for authors against people whose intentions are to unethically redirect donations to the original authors..



Anyway, I'm glad you found us here and I hope we can continue the discussion about these issues and see if we can learn more about possible approaches and maybe discover additional ideas that work better for both users and coders.  thumbs up
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40hz
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« Reply #14 on: September 10, 2011, 02:09:09 PM »

I still think in the long run that its far more practical to develop a working prototype, find some investors, and then release under a standard commercial license model. To improve chances of reaching critical mass, the product should allow full use of the functionality - but shut itself off (or require reactivation) after a given period of time.* Much like Microsoft did with the beta edition of Windows 7. That allows the end-users to see what you've come up with, help identify bugs, and suggest improvements.

It further allows the developer to:

  • get valuable feedback
  • accurately determine the level of interest in their product
  • build a database of users for future marketing and PR efforts

Note that none of the above requires the use of  "open" anything - be it source code or the licensing model.

Open, as a monetization strategy, only really works for major software projects (Apache, the kernal, etc.) where there's either an ongoing market for corporate customer support - or where enough people are making money off it (e.g. hardware appliances) that the manufacturers view contributing code and money as an act of "enlightened self-interest." (Big corps like Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Google, et al do that all the time.)

For smaller projects, asking for contributions seldom brings in more than a pittance regardless of the number of actual users.

Maybe I'm overly cynical about these things, but to me crowd-sourcing software development sounds (in most cases) very close to this:



I think a lot of it is born out of the attempt to make some money without actually having to sell somebody something. It's a nice idea. But if the primary motivation is to get away from having to market or do selling, you can forget it.

Yes, there are a few Cinderella stories out there about how something became an epic success without any traditional marketing. But for every one of them there are tens of thousands of other successes that came about through intelligent marketing and sales efforts. Truth is, if you want better odds of success, try copying what has already been proven to work. And only if it fails try something different.

So rather than go through the hassles of coming up with yet another alternate development model (since we have freeware, shareware, adware, open, and commercial models already) why not try going with a standard "closed commercial' license approach and see where it leads?  You might be pleasantly surprised.

It's certainly easier to attract investors doing it that way if nothing else.

Just my 2ΒΆ


-------------------------------------------------------
*Note regarding deactivation of beta or trail versions:

I would humbly suggest that if software does deactivate after its authorization expires, the developer still allow the user access to any user entered data stored in the program after the expiration. Some export to a standard file format (tab delimited, CSV etc.) would be nice. Remaining functional in a read-only mode would be even better. That way, the user still has access to their data, but is not allowed to modify existing entries or make new ones. I think that's more than fair because it strikes a good balance between not taking anything away from the user that belongs to them while still protecting the developer's interests.



« Last Edit: September 10, 2011, 02:24:49 PM by 40hz » Logged

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hsoft
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« Reply #15 on: September 10, 2011, 03:08:30 PM »

So rather than go through the hassles of coming up with yet another alternate development model (since we have freeware, shareware, adware, open, and commercial models already) why not try going with a standard "closed commercial' license approach and see where it leads?  You might be pleasantly surprised.

Hardcoded Software has been a closed source business for nearly 10 years before trying the fairware thing. It was successful and in 2004, I was able to leave my day job for it.

My concerns -- the reason for trying fairware -- are more of ethical nature than of monetary nature. But of course, you can't eat ethics, so that's why money's gotta come in at some point smiley

The problem is that you see the whole thing as an alternate business model. Of course the closed source model is more profitable at the individual level. The business model of Goldman Sachs is also highly profitable, but they're crooks and liars. But the question is: which model makes the world a better place?
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« Reply #16 on: September 10, 2011, 05:05:04 PM »

I personally don't see why this can't work.  My concerns as a potential user have already been addressed, and I see where you are coming from in your approach.  I also see how it is a perfect fit for the DC community here.  I commend you and am glad you found us. 

I do hope you stick around and join us for all there is to offer here.  In return, I have no doubt you will get a lot back.  If nothing else, you will find a ready and friendly place to announce your software, though I hope you participate more than that.  This is how I found out about your software; and if my personal PC didn't decide to blow a capacitor on the motherboard, I would download some of your wares and check them out (moneyGuru, oddly enough, is the most interesting one to me).  So until I get a new MoBo and can get back up and running, I have to wait.

Again, welcome and enjoy.
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mouser
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« Reply #17 on: September 10, 2011, 06:46:24 PM »

40hz, many of your points are good ones, and if money was the sole or even main goal, it might be more cut and dried.

But many of us who are interested in this model have other interests and goals.

Ethics is one, as hgsoft mentioned.

But for me i think it's mainly about the kind of experience I want to have as a coder -- and the kind of experience I have always valued the most.  I get a lot of pleasure out of having a "relationship" (for lack of a better word) with the community of users that use my software.  I like the feeling of knowing that people are able to pay what they feel is right -- and I like the nature of the interactions I have with those kinds of users.  I think that's a large part of what DonationCoder is all about and why I love it here so much and why I appreciate everyone here.

That is a very different experience than one gets when selling software at a fixed price, or when one is focused on maximizing profit, and when dealing with "paying customers".

I'm not saying it's an all or nothing thing, I'm just saying that when you start considering a wider spectrum of goals and realize that profit is not at the top of the list, then these other approaches may start to make more sense.

One frustration has been coming to terms with how hard it is and how much energy must be expended to find a middle ground alternative approach.  I had a naive belief that if one started out with the position that it wasn't important to make lots of money -- that just making enough to survive would be sufficient -- then life would be a lot easier.

Unfortunately it seems to me that that's not been the case.. Our world economy in general, and software economy in specific, seems to have carved out these niches for commercial products that people expect and are happy to pay for, and "free" stuff that no one is required to pay for -- and that they therefore refuse to spend money on -- and it seems very hard to try to carve out a stable niche somewhere in between where people make voluntary payments.

One of the nice things about being on this site is meeting so many people who are supportive of the attempt to find an alternative approach, and who don't make you feel like an idiot or a sell out for floundering around struggling to find new ways to do so.
« Last Edit: September 10, 2011, 06:59:58 PM by mouser » Logged
vlastimil
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« Reply #18 on: September 11, 2011, 01:54:30 AM »

After reading all the posts, I am still not convinced that adopting the fairware approach is the best way for someone, who wants to start a self-sustainable software project.

hsoft, you said, the dupeGuru was a successful product before you switched to the fairware approach. I think this is a very rare thing, usually people switch from free/donationware to commercial if they feel like the second alternative would be to quit or fade away.

When you were switching to fairware model, you were in this unique position and you knew there were many people ready to pay for dupeGuru. You already had a proven and established product that paid for itself and all you needed from the donors was paying for the additional work. When someone starts a new freeware project, the situation is very different. Almost no one knows about the software, it does almost nothing and they have no money for marketing. Many people also implicitly consider freeware inferior when there is a paid alternative. To summarize, you had the right community of people when you started, because you built the core of it while your product was commercial.

Maybe the path you took was more important than the final destination. Maybe successful commercial applications can be turned into successful fairware. (And it is a wonderful thing, don't get me wrong. I am just doubting the fairware approach itself is the silver bullet.)
« Last Edit: September 11, 2011, 01:59:03 AM by vlastimil » Logged
hsoft
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« Reply #19 on: September 11, 2011, 06:24:52 AM »

hsoft, you said, the dupeGuru was a successful product before you switched to the fairware approach. I think this is a very rare thing, usually people switch from free/donationware to commercial if they feel like the second alternative would be to quit or fade away.

When you were switching to fairware model, you were in this unique position and you knew there were many people ready to pay for dupeGuru. You already had a proven and established product that paid for itself and all you needed from the donors was paying for the additional work. When someone starts a new freeware project, the situation is very different. Almost no one knows about the software, it does almost nothing and they have no money for marketing. Many people also implicitly consider freeware inferior when there is a paid alternative. To summarize, you had the right community of people when you started, because you built the core of it while your product was commercial.

True, when the project was closed source, I ran some adwords ads and this helped my exposure, but the thing is that, as I wrote before, I never had as much exposure as when I turned fairware. Just two weeks ago, dupeGuru was on LifeHacker's download of the day. That was so much exposure that my bandwidth limit exploded (before I found out it was LH, I thought I was being DDOSed or something). That would never have happened before.

That being said, you might be onto something. Since dupeGuru started its fairware adventure as a successful project, there's no fairware nag most of the time, so I think many people think it's simply freeware. You see it in the way people describe it, like "check out this great free app!". It irks me a bit, but well... But the fact of the matter is, when hours needs to be paid, users pay.

Maybe that a better nagging approach would be to wait a bit before nagging, but I'm hesitant to do that. I prefer to be upfront about the app being fairware.

Oh, thinking of exposure, PdfMasher is my first app which is "100% fairware" because it started out as fairware. Well, it got some pretty good exposure too smiley (yes, another Lifehacker download of the day, among others). The contribution level is not great yet, and maybe it never will because I suspect that not that many people need to do what PdfMasher does. But still, my point is: the problem is not a lack of exposure-due-to-not-being-closed-source problem. When people refer to PdfMasher, they also say "check out this great free app!" most of the time, even though the nag in PdfMasher is always there.
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40hz
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« Reply #20 on: September 11, 2011, 07:56:14 AM »

40hz, many of your points are good ones, and if money was the sole or even main goal, it might be more cut and dried.

But many of us who are interested in this model have other interests and goals.

Ethics is one, as hgsoft mentioned.

But for me i think it's mainly about the kind of experience I want to have as a coder -- and the kind of experience I have always valued the most.  I get a lot of pleasure out of having a "relationship" (for lack of a better word) with the community of users that use my software.  I like the feeling of knowing that people are able to pay what they feel is right -- and I like the nature of the interactions I have with those kinds of users.  I think that's a large part of what DonationCoder is all about and why I love it here so much and why I appreciate everyone here.

That is a very different experience than one gets when selling software at a fixed price, or when one is focused on maximizing profit, and when dealing with "paying customers".

You make an excellent point.

But there's nothing in the above that couldn't be accomplished by a business or a standard software license.

Ethics, and caring, and relationships, and treating the user of your product right is YOUR personal choice. It has little to do with the business of license model you offer it under. Ethical people treat others ethically. There is nothing about running a successful business that forces you to behave otherwise.

If you want to be ethical - be ethical. If you want a relationship with your customers - build a relationship. And if you believe in treating people right - just do it. Because there's nothing in the business model that will prevent you from doing so.

And more important, there's nothing in an alternate model that automatically guarantees you will - unless YOU make the effort and commitment first.


Quote
I'm not saying it's an all or nothing thing, I'm just saying that when you start considering a wider spectrum of goals and realize that profit is not at the top of the list, then these other approaches may start to make more sense.

For the record, pure profit is not always at the top of every businesses' list of priorities. That's a very common misunderstanding on the part of a lot of people. Many businesses (especially 'privately owned' ones) put other human and social goals ahead of profit - and/ or qualify their profit goals with a statement of how such profits will be made.

Note: There's a certain contingent (largely composed of academics) who insists that maximizing profitability (at any cost) is the only goal of a business and further argue its also a legal requirement they do so. Neither is true although it's convenient for those who say it to believe so. So it goes.

Quote
One frustration has been coming to terms with how hard it is and how much energy must be expended to find a middle ground alternative approach.  I had a naive belief that if one started out with the position that it wasn't important to make lots of money -- that just making enough to survive would be sufficient -- then life would be a lot easier.

Unfortunately it seems to me that that's not been the case.. Our world economy in general, and software economy in specific, seems to have carved out these niches for commercial products that people expect and are happy to pay for, and "free" stuff that no one is required to pay for -- and that they therefore refuse to spend money on -- and it seems very hard to try to carve out a stable niche somewhere in between where people make voluntary payments.

That's much the same frustration that the FOSS movement has dealt with for a number of years. There's still a large number of potential users that refuse to consider FOSS solutions because experience (and corporate propaganda) has taught them that anything offered free must be: (a) bug-ridden, (b) malware infested, (c) unsupported, (d) stolen or otherwise illegal, or (e) all of the above.

Unfortunately, despite all the money and concerted effort spent to educate the general public, serious misconceptions and moderate distrust of FOSS continues to be the norm.

But maybe one new approach (and individual) can succeed where the FOSS movement failed, so why not try?

One interesting thing the FOSS people noticed is how many corporations and big businesses very quickly got onboard with FOSS products (even of they weren't deploying them to the desktop level) while at the same time publicly dissing the whole notion of free software.

Who knows? Maybe they just didn't want their competitors to benefit from it the same way they were.

Quote
One of the nice things about being on this site is meeting so many people who are supportive of the attempt to find an alternative approach, and who don't make you feel like an idiot or a sell out for floundering around struggling to find new ways to do so.

Just because one disagrees with something doesn't automatically mean they think the person they're disagreeing with is an idiot. Nor that the idea being proposed is stupid.

Someone once said a complaint is a compliment in disguise.

In the context of this discussion thread, challenges and counter-arguments should be taken more as a compliment. Especially since stupid statements tend to get dismissed around here without comment. It's only when people detect something of value in what's being said that they take the time to respond - even if they disagree or question the viability of what's being proposed.

So, hopefully, the recipient of a response that isn't totally supportive of their position will understand it for what it is.

And also not take it too personally.

Because it's possible to disagree with an idea, yet not lose respect for the person who came up with it.

 smiley

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mouser
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« Reply #21 on: September 11, 2011, 08:09:14 AM »

All fair points 40hz.  I tend to go a bit overboard when talking about large companies and corporations, in terms of the machinery for maximizing profit.  I do think that the larger the company gets, the less bearing and influence that the ethics of individuals plays a role, and the more the institution takes on a single-purpose mind of its own.

And I certainly didn't mean to imply that any small business was any less ethical than freeware developers.  And I acknowledge that many small business people are interested in more than just profit.  The point I was trying to make is simply that the priorities and core goals of serious commercial software companies are different from the goals of most freeware/open source coders, and that this explains much of the different focus of the two camps.

I always think about these things from a dynamical systems perspective, and the idea of stable states -- and the fear that what we have in the software world looks like there are only two real stable states -- one where profit maximization is king, and one where software is free and raising voluntary donations is close to impossible; where any other configurations is unstable and will get driven out of the "marketplace" by a competitor closer to one of these two stable states..  From this standpoint, I think we are all just looking to find a stable state in this world that is somewhere in between these two and hoping one exists out there somewhere..

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hsoft
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« Reply #22 on: September 11, 2011, 08:33:05 AM »

I can't speak for others, but when I wrote of ethics, I meant the ethical issues of open source vs closed source in general. What I mean is that I think the world would be a better place if, while allowing the developers to eat, all software was open source.

By no mean I wanted to imply that a developer choosing closed source was unethical, or if he is, he's as unethical as, say, someone who buys stuff made in china (the ethics of cheap labor and all, I personally see it as de-localized slavery. Yup, stuff from china is unethical, but it's so rooted in our culture that you have to be really righteous not to do it. You can't spit in someone's face for doing it)
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mouser
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« Reply #23 on: September 11, 2011, 08:45:18 AM »

Steering us back in more productive direction, i'm still very interested in trying to come up with a new alternative to the kinds of things that DC (and fairware) does in terms of "nag" screens, which we both use to some degree or another.. and understanding the intricacies of why that has proven hard to get away from.  Some discussion of that is here.

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vlastimil
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« Reply #24 on: September 11, 2011, 09:08:20 AM »

Nag screens... ok, here are my experiences:
My nag screen has a button named "I do not want to help". If the user clicks it, he or she is never bothered again.
It also has a button with "I want to help" with instructions how to send a Paypal donation.
It does not work very well - tens of thousands of downloads, lot of exposure, < 20 donations.

Maybe there is something more important than nag screens: the typical user. My typical user is a kid or a teenager. They do not care about donations or they do not have the means to send them (I have lots of "I will donate when I am older" messages). I doubt this would change if I showed the users the amount I got vs. the amount of work invested.

BTW, hsoft, congrats to the LH daily download. A software must be very useful or unique, not just free to get that. thumbs up
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