There are many ways to support open source developers and maintainers, but many potential business backers are unaware of the need.
Appwrite raised $27 million in April 2022 to support the development of its backend-as-a-service platform for developers. That is one way to create sustainable open source. The other is the fund that Appwrite announced this week to support open source development driven in large part by Appwrite CEO and founder Eldad Fux’s own “financial pain” to get Appwrite off the ground.
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Fux isn’t the first to try to figure out open source sustainability; he probably won’t be the last either. Appwrite also lacks the money that, say, a Google brings to this problem. I spoke to Fux to better understand the conundrum of open source sustainability.
For starters, while $27 million is a significant start to support Appwrite’s own product and go-to-market ambitions, it’s nowhere near enough to tackle open source sustainability in general. While Fux is quick to point out that big tech support for open source “just isn’t enough,” how does he plan to move forward?
It turns out that this may not be the right question.
“By supporting open source at an early stage as a company, we hope to raise the bar for smaller startups and medium-sized organizations,” he noted. So it’s not about solving the mega-problem of open source sustainability alone, but about making supporting open source an integral part of the company’s journey. “This is a responsibility that we believe every business should have for the success and sustainability of the entire ecosystem.” He’s not wrong.
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Is this a model he thinks others should follow? “I believe that every company of all sizes should research and see what it gets from open source and what it makes to make sure it also gives back to the community. Not only is it wise to make sure the ecosystem around your technology is healthy, but it’s the right choice.” While normative statements like “the right thing to do” don’t tend to gain popularity, there is more support for the first part of his statement. The more companies help shape the open source they depend on, the better able they are to create value for their customers.
So where to start?
“While some projects are used by millions, they may still struggle to find a reasonable way to make money and support themselves. This is where we think we can help,” Fux said. Open source projects need all kinds of support, he continued, but in his experience, “financial support was my main concern” as a maintainer. However, sometimes it is not the intention to ignore enforcers with a lack of money. “Companies benefit from your work, but aren’t always aware of the challenges you face to deliver it,” he suggested. That’s why Appwrite’s open source fund is as much about raising money as “awareness of the challenges required to deliver high-quality open source products.”
In doing so, he hopes that business supporters will discover what he has: “The best hidden advantage is that you always get a lot in return by giving to open source. It is mainly about the decision to take action.”
Disclosure: I work for MongoDB, but the views expressed herein are mine†