Thoughts on Gratipay

Those of you who, like me, don’t read all the news may be vaguely aware that Gittip has rebranded to Gratipay of late, and then shut down for some time. As a former gittip customer/user this was visible to me only in that the weekly stream of tips disappeared.

It turns out that Gratipay shut down for two reasons. First off, their parent payment processor closed their doors (1). In trying to find another payment processor, the team ended up talking to legal council and discovering that they were operating what I understand to be an unlicensed wire transfer service (2). This forced the team to rethink their business model so as to, well, be legal. See (3).

The new direction espoused by the Gratipay team (4) is in short to try and support not individuals working on open source (or other) projects but rather to support cultures around projects themselves by allowing individuals to donate to a “project” and participants in that project to assign themselves “takes” from the revenues of that project (5).

The idea seems to be that this will in aggregate allow individuals to draw support from the projects they voluntarily contribute to, and to support the groups working on other tools for some definition of that group decided upon by the Gratipay “project” owner.

While I’m not sure if this is a generally good idea or not, I can say that as an individual it is definitely a sub-optimal approach to achieving any sort of funding for a project. From the last three years I’ve been engaged in open source volunteer work in and around the Clojure community my experience is that the overwhelming majority of projects fall under one of three categories: single volunteer maintainer, paid maintainer team with other responsibilities, and abandonware. The exception to this rule is the CIDER project (6) which has several very active volunteer contributors presided over by Bozhidar.

For single maintainer projects, to me the concept of “open work” as promoted by the Gratipay team doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Consider Grimoire. Sure I have an issue tracker and I’ll gladly consider and merge changes, but at what point is someone said to have “joined” the project rather than having simply “contributed”? Were someone to write and subsequently contribute documentation to Grimoire, they would be at best a contributor not an owner.

Even in the case of maintained projects there are other (7) criticisms of this “open work” model which may be leveled although my own thoughts on these particular critiques are still unclear.

I note with some amusement that Justin Smith, arguably one of two other major “contributors” to Grimoire funds me elsewhere.

Multiple maintainer projects are in my experience typically drivers and other tools which were/are developed for corporate use and are maintained in an open source manner for whatever reason. As these projects are already payrolled by other ventures there is no clear reason why they should participate in an “open work” model when the majority of ongoing work is expected to be done by employees.

Finally maintainer-less projects to which no changes are being accepted clearly are not “open work” since nobody can do work on them without forking and creating a new project.

So in short I personally conclude that “open work” is a misfit for every common state of maintainership I’ve encountered. In either of the cases where maintainers are active, the bountysource model clearly makes more sense because users or maintainers can price out the piece work they wish done and there is no conception of a “contributor” to haggle over, nor issues with “contributor’s” relative assessments of their contributions’ worth to settle. The market of people willing to place bounties serves that purpose automatically with some efficiency.

As most projects are single maintainer, it seems to me that the most effective way to sponsor such work is either via a source bounty above or via direct ongoing payments or tips. You know, the model that Gratipay used to have.

All this said, I am seeking to have a Gratipay project (8) opened until such time as those who are currently attempting to fund me can be reached and their donations rerouted to my patreon account (9) which seems to serve my purpose better although payments are at monthly rather than weekly intervals.