2004.09.14

Hmmm, perhaps I should have titled this “How to make money on open-source software”

Nonetheless, I’ve seem relatively few projects use ransoms for development. David Raynes mentions this idea in combination with Dropcash in an entry titled Using Dropcash for Feature Ransoms? Seems he hit the nail on the head, as Chad Everett tried it with his MT-Notifier ransom and David did one with his MT Dropcash Plugin Ransom that came out “more than successful” in his words…

I’m probably not an expert in the field, but over the years I’ve seen people do a few things, release their software as shareware, or “freeware”, or commercial, or open-source… and occasionally the open-source stuff will have a donation model, where you donate cash (usually via PayPal) or you send a gift (usually via Amazon) and in these cases you do the work (probably for the love of doing the work) and if you get compensated, well, that’s just a bonus. There’s nothing wrong with this model, and I hope it continues. Luckily open-source developers have things like Sourceforge to help with the infrastructure, bandwidth, and hosting costs associated with releasing open-source software.

Here’s how I see the ransom model working for feature requests and enhancements. You’ve released some application, but it doesn’t do X. Users request feature X, and in reviewing it, you determine that it’ll take Y hours to do, and you’d like to be compensated with Z dollars. You just need to figure out the X, Y, and Z part of it. Any problems with this? This should not violate any open-source licenses, as you’d still release the code once it’s complete, then anyone can have it. Is it fair to the people who paid that everyone else gets it for free? Yes, the people who paid really wanted that feature, and were willing to pay for it…

This is actually done by some companies that deal in open-source and/or custom development as well. There’s a gated community of users, maybe they’ve got 20 clients in the steel industry who use their product. If one customer wants a feature added, but can’t afford it, they may see if other companies want that feature as well, and distribute the cost. (Hmmm, perhaps this should be called “distributed cost development” or something.)

Now, for new software, it’s a bit harder. Someone who has never released anything isn’t likely to get any ransom money for an unreleased application, especially with no prior bits of code out there. So, if you plan to ransom and release something, you’ll most likely need to have released something of value previously. For instance, Developer Joe has this great new idea for Application X, and he’s already had 100,000 downloads of his previously released Application Y, and users love it. Based off of Developer Joe’s reputation as a good programmer, he might be able to get people to pitch in and pay the ransom for Application X.

Anyway, I think the idea is fascinating, and there are probably many ways to make money on ope-source software, and even commercial software that have not been fully explored yet.

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