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Simon (89)

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Journal of Simon (89)

Wednesday July 03, 2002
10:59 AM

Some thoughts on donation models

[ #6152 ]
In reply to a thread on Free Software Business:

I have two problems with the open source donation model.

The first is that open source projects are made from code, and the best donation I can give them is not money but code. In the case of Perl, I maintain nearly 40 modules, managed the release of the first few versions of the Perl 6 interpreter, and have contributed many patches and documents to the Perl 5 core. I feel absolutely no guilt at all for not giving a single cent to the fundraising drive.

If all we did was throw money at a small number of people to get the code written for us, there'd be no community to maintain.

Second, and far more seriously, donation models reinforce the myth that software is important in any meaningful sense of the word. Of course, software is relatively important to programmers, but for the vast majority of the world, it's pretty meaningless.

I'm very lucky that I have the opportunity to give reasonable sums of money to charity reasonably often. When this happens, I naturally have a number of things vying for my donations. Here are a few:

  • Work with homeless people in my home town.
  • Care for the elderly mentally ill.
  • Providing AIDS vaccines for children in Africa.
  • Digging wells and providing fresh water for villages in Pakistan.
  • Allowing privileged first-world programmers to sit in front of a computer for more hours than they currently do.

Put like that, I hope it is clear that software is not as important as the biased eye of a programmer may perceive. Indeed, no matter how much of my income I derive from the existence of a given open source project, it becomes very difficult for me to fail to take a global view in cases like this. The common counterargument that I should donate money to Perl because it provides my livelihood makes sense only for those who cannot see beyond their own needs.

Meanwhile, I know full well that as Perl is an open source project, it'll continue to be maintained and developed whether or not people are paid to do this. This makes it even more difficult for me to help the poor white-bread middle-class afflicted.

So I'm happy to contribute to Perl in my own way, but I'd rather not lose my sense of priority.

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  • by hfb (74) on 2002.07.03 12:51 (#10197) Homepage Journal

    of the foundation entirely which isn't money rather support of a common goal. I think Jarkko well outstrips you in both time and code contributed yet he gave several hundred bucks to the foundation because it's important. It's not about the foundation, it's not about the personalities, it's about giving a vote of confidence to an institution that has only yet begun. I have some reservations and am not even all that wild about perl 6  ...but I gave too since I think it's important this Foundation doesn't fail.

    The foundation will fail utterly with enough people feeling the way you do since why should any large corporation, granting institution or major philanthropist be arsed to give to the foundation when the home constituency can't be bothered to support their own people and goals?

    Before Jon started throwing cups that fateful day we were talking about the community and how it eats its own far too often...unfortunately Perl 6 came up and noone ever came back to this important issue. The elitism, the sense of entitlement, the unrelenting vapidness will lead to languish. Because if what you say is true, then the whole concept of Open Source as an equal playing field is a lie and this language and this community will sink deeper and deeper into the cult of personality until there is nothing left but contempt.

  • by Matts (1087) on 2002.07.03 13:30 (#10198) Journal
    I can agree with individuals thinking like that - often there are more significant things going on in the world than supporting a programming language. But corporates need to take a long hard look at how much they spend on Visual Studio  .NET and MSDN subscriptions, and realise just how much they get for free from perl.

    Yes, I speak of this as someone from a company who has not yet donated. I'm trying.
    • You aren't getting it, so I'll be more blunt.

      I was a grant officer for a foundation for a number of years and one of the sometimes written rules of thumb was "If the organisation doesn't care enough to get the community involved, we can't be bothered." It's a big red flag. Why should any company give money to this foundation when so many seem to think themselves above doing so? They won't or maybe a few will, but they shouldn't until this community figures out that supporting the foundation from within is

      • I didn't say I thought myself above giving (for whatever it's worth, I changed jobs and took a massive pay cut, and so live to the very edge of my salary - giving simply isn't on the schedule right now).

        I wouldn't even dream of arguing that people should think of not helping out with TPF. If they can, they should. But, I can see Simon's point, that we don't *need* Perl 6. Not like those starving in Africa *need* a meal. That's all. Make of it what you will.

        On the flip side, TPF does *need* us, so if you c
  • This month I've spent a few hours (free) writing a program for a cancer researcher so that he can automate access to genome database's otherwise intractable interface, so that he can spend his time on actual cancer research instead of spending a week or two or twelve mindlessly copying and pasting to and from Netscape. The program I wrote for him uses general-purpose tools that Gisle, Martijn, and me have been working on for years. Remember that the next time someone you know gets cancer and doesn't die

    • The pod parsers problem is fixed. Pod::SAX provides a unified and standardised interface for doing it. Feeding SAX into DOM gives you searchability. Feeding SAX into XSLT gives you renderability.

      I *think* it's fully perlpodspec compliant. If not, most bugs now should be small.
  • for having the balls to actually say it. is relatively important to programmers, but for the vast majority of the world, it's pretty meaningless.

    Precisely why I could not justify donating money to this "cause" myself. I had a family member die of Cancer a few years back so I regularly donate money to various Cancer related organizations. If you can justify giving money to fund an uneeded new version of a programming language ahead of "real world" concerns then more power to ya - I know I ca
    • It is unfortunate that the Perl Foundation became the "perl 6 fund' since perl6 is still not widely accepted. Again, this is not the point of the organisation since, if it manages to survive at this point, it may go on to fund and support many other worthy projects within the community.

      My father died 3 years ago from a hideous bout of cancer and my mother is not far behind...however, comparing disease research to donating $5 to the Perl Foundation is an emotional, obvious and pointless ruse. If you don't

      • It is unfortunate that the Perl Foundation became the "perl 6 fund' since perl6 is still not widely accepted. Again, this is not the point of the organisation since, if it manages to survive at this point, it may go on to fund and support many other worthy projects within the community.

        Right, but the call for funding right now is to primarily help pay for Perl6 development - no? just isn't a fair argument.

        Fair or not fair it actually happens to be my point of view. If I have a spare $100 laying
        • Right now, yes. But it has only just begun and, who knows, maybe next year or sometime in the future they'll fund a wide variety of projects in the community. I cannot argue that starving children and cancer research are important causes. They are. But, considering you use perl and make some part of your living off of it, so is the perl foundation. Perl has, directly and indirectly, helped people doing important work for important causes both for profit and not for profit and it is pretty 'real world' too.

  • I think Simon misses the point too, but not exactly in the way hfb says. I think the point should be that giving to TPF is not charity, but an investment. I think Simon is absolutely right that if TPF is a charity, it will not see a dime of my money. But if it is an investment -- not necessarily one in which I will reap financial benefit, but certainly on in which I will derive direct benefit -- then that's a different case altogether.

    Not to merely restate what Simon says, but for the sake of emphasis:
    • Darn, I find myself agreing with Pudge!
      I have benefited so much from Perl, from the paycheck I get every month to working with a language I love, to meeting people I can relate to at conferences and through the Perl Mongers, that frankly I could not imagine _not_ giving to TPF.
      The Perl culture, to which I think TPF contributes significantly, is just such an important, and treasured, part of my life that I feel like giving to TPF is akin to paying a psychiatrist, it really helps improve my sanity (at least w