Sourceforge, and Community Supported Projects

February 24th, 2003

I wonder what Sourceforge’s cost per project is? Obviously it varies. I’m sure phpMyAdmin or Gaim which have been in the top 10 most active projects for the last few years, have a much high cost associated them my little project, which in turn is much more resource intensive then the hundreds of projects which died stillborn, a name, and a blurb, and nothing else. Still, I think we should be able to calculate some reasonable average, and I would be curious to know what that is.

Because I’ve been noticing that Sourceforge, particularily the CVS server, has been having problems lately, and I, for one, am worried. I think this is the time when we start looking to new models, and stop relying on rich companies’ philanthropic impulses to support our community.

Would $5/year cover it? I wouldn’t hesitate to pay $5 a year to know that I can count on SourceForge sticking around as I start to build a project’s identity around it. I might go up $10. At $15, or $20 I would have to think if it was worth it to me, as I have the ability to provide everything Sourceforge provides trivially, and I use it as a convience to

  • minimize resource consumption on my own boxes
  • because I don’t want to enable pserver, and anonymous CVS on my own boxes
  • because a Sourceforge URL lends a certain credibility, below www.projectname.org, but definitely above, www.somehost.com/~user/projectname.

The End of Free

“For free” is a sickness. For free is as damaging, dot-com, and capitalistic, as the ridiculously inflated prices we saw during the boom. It doesn’t respect labor, it cordons off the public into powerless consumers rather then invested users, and it doesn’t build sustainable alternatives. Now I don’t think the people behind SourceForge comes at it with much of a critique, but they’ve built an incredibly useful service that I would like to keep around.

Combatting Beginning of the End.

There are 2 problems that anybody who starts charging for a previously free service are going to encounter.

  • First, some people get huffy when asked to pay for something they had been taking for granted. Ignore them. Its temporary. They’ll adapt.
  • Much more seriously, for those of us who have been living with the web for a long time, moving to a subscription model has the unpleasant sound of a death rattle. Nothing shakes the confidence in a project more then starting to charge. You start thinking,
    “Wow, they must be hurting. If I pay them my $XX and they go out of business in 6 months, then what? I guess I should start looking for alternatives.”
    Salon is a good example of this. This sort of thinking also hurts the ability of projects to solicit donations as well.
    “They are down on their knees begging, and I would be happy to pay $XX to make sure they are here tomorrow. But unless XX,XXX faceless other users to the same, I’ve thrown good money down the drain.”

It doesn’t have to be this way, but at this point we’re skittish.

Financial transparency would help

If, for example, Sourceforge sent a note to each project maintainer saying:
  • Our annual burn rate is: $XX,XXX
  • On operating costs break down like so:
    • bandwidth
    • people
    • hardware
    • support
  • We’re doing what we can to make sure we run a tight ship, but
  • Each project costs on average: $XX.XX
  • If you’re activity profile is about 90% you actually cost more like: $XXX.XX
  • We currently have funding to run for 10 months, and if our current business model goes well, we’ll be fine.
  • But, in acknowledgement that SF has become an important public resource, we’re asking that our community come together to support us.
  • In return, we commit to making sure SF will be here for the long haul.

Some Refinements

It would be up to the folks behind SF to figure out how they need to cover their costs. But I’m inclined to say charge a flat rate per project. More popular projects are clearly serving the community, no reason to punish them for their popularity. Or if that just doesn’t make sense when you look at the numbers, break it into tiers.

Consider charging projects a flat rate for project administration services, but small bandwidth charge for website hosting.

I don’t know. Does that make sense? Am I worried needlessly? (and if so, why does CVS keep timing out?) How much would you pay?

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