Why (most) medium sized free software projects are doomed (or, IBM said “no”)

Why (most) medium sized free software projects are doomed (or, IBM said “no”)


It’s no secret that I love free software; you don’t decide to start a magazine about it and stick with it for years unpaid if you don’t. While making Free Software Magazine, I learned a lot about free software and its ecology. What I discovered was sometimes exciting, sometimes disheartening.

The world is blessed with hundreds of free software projects: from small (and priceless) utilities (like “ls”!), to complex, graphical programs (like Firefox, OOo and the GIMP). It’s like a huge ecosystem, where each piece of software has its place and meaning—and where Darwinian survival rules are applied mercilessly, especially towards the weaker species.

I’ve been in this industry for more than 10 years now, and learned how to identify free software projects.

There are projects that are new (less than 2 years); they are fresh, and exciting. They often try to do something innovative, or take an old idea and do it better. They start out with passion, and are fed by passion. More and more people become aware of those projects, the mailing lists—once deserted—become very active, and the web site’s bandwidth usage grows and grows (ever wondered why growing projects often change their hosting servers?).

There are also projects that “make it”. There aren’t many percentage-wise, but they are there. I am sure I don’t need to name them (but I will anyway: Snort (used in computer security), Firefox, even GNOME and KDE, Python, and so on). These projects have plenty of traffic and exposure, and gain the attention of those corporate users who rely on them. Which means, they can usually count on financial support by companies with real money or by their community.

There is a third class of unfortunate projects: the mid-sized ones. Those projects which are not “small” anymore—their user base is usually very big, the users’ demands grow exponentially, and they are undeniably successful. However, while these projects are big enough to require a lot of care (and time), they have not reached that critical size they need to reach in order to get massive exposure and, therefore, funding.

Who is to blame? Maybe, nobody is. I’m not aware of a lot of those projects myself! I certainly don’t expect corporate managers to surf the net looking for mid-sized projects that are in need of funding and support. Even when those managers are made aware of a specific project’s need, the problem is that it’s even hard for a company with serious money to even consider smaller venues or organise small sponsorships. Even if they did, how could they possibly decide on which projects actually deserve help? Why project “A” and not project “B”? Who is Mr. Manager to choose?

As a result, a lot of successful, mid-sized free software projects turn into abandon-ware. Their members end up arguing (stress does that), or they simply let go of the project. There isn’t enough of a fuss because the software’s users were many, yes, but not enough to create a “situation”.

Why am I writing this? Well, because this is exactly what Free Software Magazine is going through right now. We would love to pay our authors, ourselves, and have a prosperous magazine. We are now considered a very popular project (the number of subscribers we have—thirty thousand—speaks for itself); however, we are finding it very difficult to get the funding we need. Money is slowly coming in, advertisers are booking ads, but it’s not quite enough yet. If you want to know who has helped us, feel free to visit our sponsors page, by the way!

We are lucky because we don’t argue, we are determined enough to keep going until we break through this phase, and finally turn into a “big project”. We are also lucky because making Free Software Magazine is actually fun. However, being a mid-sized project has proven to be a very hard task, at least financially. While we remind ourselves how lucky we are for the sponsors we have received (and for some of them helping us has required substantial effort), we sometimes feel disappointed because of all of the companies we expected support from, and who simply haven’t listened (for whatever reason). We are also blessed by income from other ventures, which means that we don’t actually need Free Software Magazine to make money, but having extra jobs does mean that we don’t have as much time to dedicate to the project.

I’m writing this article after a non-answer from IBM: we asked them to help our project by providing much needed laptops (and yes, we tried selling them advertising space, but are still waiting for a reply...and it has been a while now). Let me assure you that we think highly of IBM: they have defended and helped Linux just so much. However, apparently our request never made it to the right person—or perhaps it made it, but that person could only deal with it if it was about a few hundred thousand dollars. We are not bitter—and yes, we still love IBM!—but... we are disappointed.

We’re not alone: there are thousands of projects out there in a very similar situation. I wondered if this can be changed somehow. Maybe creating a “mid-sized software project” association that would redistribute sponsorship money would work? Maybe. Or maybe not. The same problem would arise: who qualifies? Who deserves to be in it? Who gets the most money? Who is not going to argue about it? Maybe, this is why most mid-sized free software projects are doomed, and only a few lucky ones, with the right conditions (which luckily we seem to have), actually make it.

What do you think? (And I actually mean it: please leave your comments!)

Category: 

Comments

gattu's picture
Submitted by gattu on

Hi, I understand what you guys must be going through. But currently I cannot give you monetary donations in dolars, as i am from India. But I can help you by visiting the sponsors site. I appreciate your efforts.

Life is not about solutions to problem, its about living the problem.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Let's dig this: http://www.digg.com/software/Worldwide_Donate_to_Open_Source_Day_October_16th

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

There are no failed projects, only poorly managed ones.

Lack of funding partners usually happens for two reasons. Either the product/service/idea has no viable market (i.e. it sucks), or the product/service/idea is so poorly managed that it can't convince the investors that even with funding, the product/service/idea will succeed in it's market (i.e. you'll piss the money away).

Medium size projects usually fall into the second category. They obviously have something that some market wants, but they don't have the brainpower to keep it running/growing/succeeding in it's own market (or transition to a bigger market).

That's why buy in (i.e. money) is usually chained to a management/marketing team.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Every product has a maximum market size and maximum price per unit. So every product has a size that it can grow into, but not beyond. (Marketers notwithstanding--they just help you reach the maximum size, they cannot make the pie any bigger.)

There are lots of products that have a size that's just too small for a variety of reasons. Funding will never come to these projects because it's not a wise investment when you can invest elsewhere and make huge money. For those projects, super efficient production can uniquely serve a need. And there is no production more efficient than some guy donating his time to spin software out of nothing.

But once you try to make something commercial out of it (even if it's open-source, but funded) you are going to have a hard time. It's not that the product sucks or you're a crappy manager. It's just that a $12,000 market is not ever going to support a $50,000 salary. And a $500,000 market is not going to support a project that cannot work without 10 specialists each making $100,000. Etc.

(That said, I'm sure there are sucky product and crappy managers.)

But you're exactly right to bring microeconomics into this discussion. I don't see the authors entry differently from the fact that lots of small businesses die... Which is not to say that all small businesses will always die.

Dave Guard's picture
Submitted by Dave Guard on

In the traditional sense of the word, we are not a magazine. And, while we are not a software project, we aim to promote the use of free software in the global community, I think that makes us a free software project.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Try Lenovo. They bought IBM's PC business. But then they have a "chequered" history with Linux... "We will not support Linux" / "Yes we will" / "No we won't"....

Maybe this could be their chance to show some support.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

IBM is no longer in the laptop business, so I don't know how you expect them to provide you with them?

Dave Guard's picture
Submitted by Dave Guard on

I think you'll find that, while IBM are big backers of the free software community and its projects, Lenovo is not. And, IBM could surely provide us with either laptops or the funds with which to purchase them if they decided to.

Besides, I think you are missing the point of the article. Tony is saying that even if IBM were looking for a project to support they would probably over look us as we fall into the medium sized project category.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Try HP

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Why are we having a capitalist view on free software?

Scott Carpenter's picture

Which view would you rather have? And does the post actually have a capitalist view? What do you mean?

If anything, the post has a vague pinko communist undertone with this mention of a mid-sized software project for redistributing money. :-)

----
http://www.movingtofreedom.org/

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Maybe you should try a company who actually markets laptops? Levono?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I just came here through Digg. I never came to your site, mainly because it never gets mentioned in the blogs that I visit. Also google never sent me here. Which means You probably don't have the content that I was looking for. Although it looks like you're showing lots of google ads.

I work exclusively with opensource software, but it is odd that none of my searches ended here. I don't know what it means. But whatever.

Also, just looking through your magazine, I saw the GIMP article, and I was like goodie! I can learn how to use GIMP to create a banner. When I checked it out, the author has the beginning picture, a bunch of screenshots, but only TEXT explanations of what is happening to the pic. At the end of the article, on page 3, we are shown the end product. I would've liked to see how the thing looked after each step that the author mentioned. Yeah, I'd see it if I did it myself, but then I'd see everything.. so why bother with half of the screenshots?

So, naturally, I wanted to leave a comment, but guess what? I can't? seems like some articles allow comments and others don't.

Whatever comments I have seen are not that many. Which tells me that users don't find your site interesting enough to stick around or leave comments most of the times. 30,000 users hitting the thing could really bring in lots of cash. If you don't believe me go look at plentyoffish.com . The guy claims to be making half a million bucks a MONTH!!! from google ads. And he has way less useful content than you guys ;-) but his site is sticky.

So, why should IBM throw you a bone? its not a charity-fest. I'm sure someone took a long hard look at your site and said, "it isn't worth it". meaning they don't think you bring any exposure value to them. It is simple as that.

If youtbue asked them to sponsor its site, they'd be all over it (maybe not). but you get my gist.. So, my suggestion?:

  1. make your site sticky and worth reading. try not to shove so many ads in ma face!
  2. allow people to participate, and do it consistently
  3. Build a community of readers, get them to edit the content or something

you can't use the push model just cuz you're free. There are plenty of other "free" resources out there, no offense, and unless I am somehow vested in your site, the only way I'd come back here is if google sends me here. otherwise, once I'm done writing this comment, I might be good as gone.

have fun and good luck. I'd like to see the rise and fall of Ruby on Rails discussed in your mag if you don't mind :)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

'So, why should IBM throw you a bone? its not a charity-fest. I'm sure someone took a long hard look at your site and said, "it isn't worth it". meaning they don't think you bring any exposure value to them. It is simple as that.'

IBM is a *very* large company and it can be hard->impossible to find the right contact. I've had a similar experience and I'm an IBM employee! It's unlikely anyone was ever even aware of the request.

Terry Hancock's picture

"Whatever comments I have seen are not that many. Which tells me that users don't find your site interesting enough to stick around or leave comments most of the times. 30,000 users hitting the thing could really bring in lots of cash."

This comment might make sense if Tony were talking about hit counts. But he's talking about registered users. Now, the main reason to register is that you can download the PDF files of the magazine. You don't need to register just to read the online articles. So, I think people have to be reasonably interested to go that far (i.e. I think the site is stickier than you give it credit for, albeit mostly "read only" interest).

As for the comments, I find they are comparable in quantity and generally superior in quality to what you'd find on Linux Today or various other online magazine sites.

This is not a "forum" site, and so it doesn't surprise me that we don't have forum-like traffic. That's not all bad. It appears that most posts here are substantive, and not of the "OMG, I EXIST!" variety, which is a good sign, not a bad one (Slashdot gets zillions of comments on nearly every post, but how many of them actually have original content?).

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

what happened to my comment?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

There are two parts to the equation:
o) Bringing traffic to your site
o) Converting that traffic to cash

You've got half the equation and it sounds like you need to partner with someone else who can provide the second half.

One approach that worked in a company I used to work at is whitelabling. You could source companies out there that offer "whitelabeled" services. They have technology(usually a web site) that they have implemented that you can brand as your own site. They generally work that they split that cash with you 50/50.

For example you could find providers who offer hosted versions of the open source software your discussing. You could either get a referall fee or similar to what I referred to above where it looks and feels like your own site and you receive an on going cut.

SharpForge - Open source community development web application for .NET 2.0

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

However how does one get a company name onto the sponsorship page? What does the money get used for? What other exposure does the sponsor get, how long will the advert last on the page... is it featured elsewhere on the site. Is their scope for co-branding at events......etc

If you claim to being a mid sized project you need to answer those questions and more otherwise companies (such as IBM) won't take your seriously at all (see above)

Great work in the magazine, however having a bitching session and a sulk about IBM and other companies, no matter how well written, is still a sulk..

Perk up and improve your sponsor proposition and you will be one step closer to being a bigger project.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"having a bitching session and a sulk about IBM and other companies, no matter how well written, is still a sulk.."

I don't think saying that they are disappointed about not getting funding from a company is equivalent to bitching or sulking. Their experience seems only to lead to the point being made which is that medium-sized projects are overlooked even though it is a difficult stage for them to go through. Small projects are maintainable, big projects need resources but get funding, medium projects are left straddling the fence between these paddocks.

My advice to FSM would be to try and keep everything as maintainable as possible until you make it big. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

As long as it's something you all love, or at least enjoy and there are those that enjoy your Mag... Keep on trying. You mentioned you have subscribers, 30,000 of them, so, try to get them all to donate 1 dollar each, that should keep you a float for a little while.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

They are only doomed if they choose to spread their resources too thin. Supporting a bunch of newbies takes a lot of time and effort, as does infighting among programmers. But that is an unessential part of making a good program. If your resources are limited you should focus on making good code, and minimize time wasted on debate and support. Design by a huge committee is usually a failure - see the example of how Mozilla got no market share until a few people took over and with a hammer fist did Firefox their way, sending the cries of the old guard not to simplify and remove features to /dev/null. Likewise the huge growth of Ubuntu while Debian plods along.

All the mid-sized apps need to survive is a strong, draconian leader. If your mid-sized app is in trouble, pick a leader NOW and make a structure where coders are coding, not debating or supporting. If your app is necessary enough the end users (who couldn't code anyway) will support each other.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Yeah, right, IBM can't wait to advertise in your magazine because your subscribers will certainly buy their software and services.
Companies don't even want to pay for sendmail (or Postfix or qmail) support although email is a very important application.
Recently even subscriptions for Red Hat's enterprise Linux distribution have been growing slower which is probably a sign of the fact that companies have started to realize that only very few selected applications require RH's 24x7 support while everything else can run on the free-free Ubuntu, Fedora or what have ya. Now how much would they want to pay for anything Linux in this environment? The fact that they're using more of it is the very reason for decrease in spending per Linux system used.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I fully support open source projects and those who promote open source, but publishing an article insinuating that IBM somehow owes you because your magazine is free or that they have done you wrong because they haven't donated is just plain unethical. This is no way to get donations, it looks more like extortion.

Between the large number of ads on the site, the 'buy this book here' links, and the highly visible 'Make a Donation' buttons you should be able to cover your costs. If not, then maybe you should look to improve the sites content. I understand that they are necessary but it's a tad hard to find the real articles among all the advertising your running. The amount of actual content that benefits the visitor should always outweigh the space used for advertising and calls for funding.

Tony Mobily's picture

Hello,

I am not sure I share your perspective.

I did not insinuate that IBM "owes us" because our magazine is free. I published my disappointment, but there is a big difference. I don't think ethics even has a role here.

Also, I don't think the article could possibly be seen as a way to get donations - or, even worse, as extortion.

Our "donate now" button has earned us two donations - one of $50 from Australia, and one of $5. That's in quite a few months. I am glad we didn't plan to cover our costs with that. Something very similar can be said about the Amazon links.

Advertising (through Google and through private channels) is indeed getting stronger and stronger. However, I am not sure people (and you) realise how expensive it is to run a web site like this - in terms of money and time. Unfortunately, only experience can teach you this, and not many people have a chance to gain that experience.

I find this statement a little weird; "it's a tad hard to find the real articles among all the advertising your running". You must have missed the 350+ articles we have published in the site, ALL released under a free license.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"insinuating that IBM somehow owes you because your magazine is free or that they have done you wrong because they haven't donated is just plain unethical."

What's unethical is making things up! What's ridiculous is thinking you can get away with it. You sir, are an Anonymous idiot.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"but publishing an article insinuating that IBM somehow owes you because your magazine is free or that they have done you wrong because they haven't donated is just plain unethical" - READ THE ARTICLE AGAIN IT'S ABOUT MEDIUM SIZED FREE SOFTWARE PROJECTS ARE DOOMED.

"it looks more like extortion." - EXTORTION BIG WORD OF THE DAY

"If not, then maybe you should look to improve the sites content. I understand that they are necessary but it's a tad hard to find the real articles among all the advertising your running" - YOU KNOW WHAT GET A LIFE

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

But I agree with only this:

"publishing an article insinuating that IBM somehow owes you because your magazine is free or that they have done you wrong because they haven't donated is just plain unethical"

However, YOU ARE WRONG about asserting FSM is guilty of this. I see no insinuation of the sort. Quote the bit of the article that supprts your claim. Go on...

I read the article twice. After the first time, I thought it was reasonable and well written. Then I read the comments and thought "hang on, did I miss something?". I read it again and I was right the first time. Some of the comments on the other hand are way off base.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

"However, I am not sure people (and you) realise how expensive it is to run a web site like this - in terms of money and time. Unfortunately, only experience can teach you this, and not many people have a chance to gain that experience."

@Tony: This has GOT to be the most disturbing thing I read in that comment at least. If this is so expensive, then you have essentially failed the first test of "free" software. Apparently, free software is not so free after all??

If that is the case, why should you even bother? If you would still like to bother, then why not structure your site such that most of the content is generated by users. And it is not the first time it would happen.

You are trying to be ComputerWorld/InformationWeek of the free world - who exist based on incestual relationships with the corporate world, while "Free Software Movement" flies right into the face of that mentality - and you should know this (if you're really plugged into the FS movement). Adoption runs off of the selfish desires of adopters, not the other way around. No one will adopt you just because you want them to, but they will if they feel a need to.

Why should someone pay for something which has FREE in its name? So, your only chance of salvation is so many users that the advertisers will feel compelled to buy premium ads. Or, value added articles with community stake in return visits.

A thought occurs: Are you what a flag bearing magazine of Free Software Movement should be? Perhaps you have only looked at the price, and not at the philosophy of free software, and that may have something to do with the current situation.

Tony Mobily's picture

Hi,

You seem to be getting confused by the "free" in "free software" here. We use "free" as in freedom - that is, our articles are available to everybody, under a FREE license.

Your comment seems to assume that creating free software products is "free of cost". Well, it's not - not at all. ANY piece of software will cost the developer time - time s/he could have used doing something else. Even when hosting is free (which is often NOT the case), managing the web site will again take time.
We make a point of not "selling" the magazine, but base our income on advertising income and sponsorships.

The point of my article is that we have *nearly* made it - and things get a little frustrating in "nearly-land".

Again, your comment seems to confuse the meaning of "free", and then you seem to get tangled up while talking about the philosophy of free software. However, this sentence actually makes a lot of sense: "Adoption runs off of the selfish desires of adopters, not the other way around. No one will adopt you just because you want them to, but they will if they feel a need to." This is true in most situations. However, we feel we are doing something that is a little beyond a "commercial project", and are expecting a more involved response from people who base their business on free software. We are getting it most of the time - unfortunately, not all of the time.

Bye,

Merc.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Your 'Free Software Magazine' name suggests that you aren't even in the same camp as IBM. They are proponents of 'Open Source'. So, why are you surprised that they aren't falling over themselves to finacialy support your efforts?

Free Software, as yet, hasn't figured out an autonomous funding model. Until then, you will need to continue to rattle your tin cup, hoping for enough donations. Unfortunately for you, your most likely supporters are also in the position to need to tin cup their way to paying their bills too.

Tony Mobily's picture

Hello,

Gosh, I didn't know the "Open Source" movement had its own astrosurfer.
Well, given the signature, it's probably just a lone astrosurfer.

For anybody reading: the free software and the open source community are in the same camp: in the camp for freedom. I very much doubt IBM would have given us a different response if we were called "open source magazine".

Casual reader, don't be fooled.

Merc.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

IBM might feel that Linux and/or other free and open source software are on the right track. So they might have decided not to spend money in a popularization. They are still a company that is out for profit, aren't they ?

DG

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I am surprised to see you asking for money. I run a small IT consultancy out of India - almost 95% based on free software. I even manage to donate some money to the GNU movement.

If I was in your position, I would really question myself on whether FSFmagazine is providing value - to whom is it providing and how you can increase it and in turn monetise it. The golden rule is, if you are providing value, people will be VERY willing to invest. Keyword being 'invest' and not 'donate'.

My suggestion would be to build statistics of your userbase, page hits and stuff and based on your user profile target business with value add services - maybe a job/applicant match, press releases of new products etc.

You are a magazine, you reach people - show case it as a marketing tool for people wanting to reach out to the free software community.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Even if your site does add value for IBM ... how many others out there do the same?
IBM can't support everyone - nor should they. IBM stockholders would most likely not enjoy funding all of these profitless projects.

I don't understand how getting free laptops and funding is in order anyway? - what's next, cell phones and charge cards?
Although i really like your website - there are literally hundreds of others out there with the same news.

"In the traditional sense of the word, we are not a magazine. And, while we are not a software project, we aim to promote the use of free software in the global community, I think that makes us a free software project."

One has to do some serious stretching to make the conclusion your a "Free Software Project" - You don't make any software - so your not a "Software Project" ... period!
You provide information on software - your a Software news site.

I eat bananna's once in awhile too - doesn't make me a monkey though.

Tony Mobily's picture

Hello,

"Although i really like your website - there are literally hundreds of others out there with the same news"

We don't do news at all. We have contents. And as far as contents, the only site I can think of with more contents online is Linux Journal. I would be surprised if I discovered hundreds of web sites which create content consistently (as we do). Maybe I didn't look hard enough, but if you reply, please list at least say 60 or 70 - since "hundreds" implies at least two or three hundred, coming up with 60 or 70 shouldn't be hard.

Getting laptops is "in order" because it's something we need, something we would pay full price for, and something IBM would be able to get them at highly discounted rates. Your reference to cell phones and charge cards is inappropriate. You are probably not aware that being sponsored with hardware is very common in the IT world.

As far as being a free software project, I would say that Free Software Magazine is a "free software related project" (hopefully you won't challenge that part), which complements free software. Since the letters r-e-l-a-t-e-d are fading from my keyboard, I'll save some keystrokes and write "Free Software Magazine is a free software project". I founded it, and that's what *I* consider it to be. Many people share my vision. However, this is a free world - feel free to have a completely different opinion.

Ryan Cartwright's picture

IBM can't support everyone - nor should they. IBM stockholders would most likely not enjoy funding all of these profitless projects.

As it happens IBM has a good tradition of supporting causes which do not return on investment. They even have (at least) one guy whose job it is to organise/authorise all this charitable stuff and my understanding is that IBM have a policy to NOT throw money at things but invest resources (staff hours, software etc.). Whilst IBM cannot support everyone I think it's not out of the question for something like FSM to ask for their support and the fact that Tony asked for resourcs and not money is entirely in keeping with my experience of how IBM do their philanthropy.

One has to do some serious stretching to make the conclusion your a "Free Software Project" - You don't make any software - so your not a "Software Project" ... period!
You provide information on software - your a Software news site.

IMHO FSM is fairly unique - perhaps not always in content but certainly in approach and certainly within the publishing industry. I know of no other magazine that limits itself to free software (as opposed to GNU/Linux). I know of few magazines that publish in the same way.

Is it a free software development project? No. Is it a project relating to, using and promoting free software? Yes. So perhaps Tony's claim that FSM is a free software project has some merit after all - from a certain point of view ( as Obi-Wan said ).

Ryan Cartwright's picture

You seem to start from the basis that free software projects require some kind of "world beater" ambition behind them in order to continue. Thus you've missed the fourth (or should that be first?) kind of free software project. The small one which exists to scratch the author's itch and which the author places into the community purely so that it might help others.

These projects often start small and stay small - few hundred users - but they continue their work and are used. They are small enough to slip through the Darwinian net and continue to exist because those who use them seem to find them helpful and useful and fitting to their needs. How do I know? I have written two of them. If you use one of these small projects and haven't yet fed back to the authors then do so or the author may assume nobody else is using it and stop working on it.

These projects don't get or deserve fame and fortune and thousands of users. They don't need funding because they are small enough to be managed in the author's spare time. I would say that some of the best free software projects started as one of these simply because the authors believed in the free software licence. There's no idealogy behind the projects, they don't try to change the world just improve a little bit of it or simply just share what they've done with the world in case the world is interested.

One I particularly recall was a little kernel project that was started in Finland as "just a bit of fun" :o)

Eugen Neuber's picture

I have included your little "I proudely support" banner in my homepage.

Maybe you could ask for this in your newsletter?

I like your download option for a hires PDF of the very magazine, but maybe you would like to supply a "low res" printer friendly version (e.g. no full colour background, etc.) Yes, I know most of them are ads...

A big Thank's to your team!
Keep up the good work!

Eugen

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Sometimes funding your favorite project can be a pain in the a$$. I donated to ie4linux b/c it helped me out so much and saved me a lot of time. There just needs to be a better/easier/quicker/more fun way to fund projects.

I'm waiting for LinuxFund.org to get their stuff together and start allowing people to sign up again for Linux credit cards. Then every time I make a purchase, I will be helping out a FOSS project.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I wonder if the model of Community-supported agriculture (see
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community-supported_agriculture) could be used successfully for FOSS development.

Similarities between software and farming were also discussed in "Understanding XML: Open Standards and Organic Foods"
http://www.understandingxml.com/archives/2005/12/what_is_an_open.html

Johannes Hutabarat's picture

I agree to your comment outlining the peculiarity of surviving free software projects. I would like to add another perspective.

If we think of the "real" free software projects as those little ones manageable within the authors' time and money resources, then perhaps a project that floats itslef to "compound," "coordinate," or "view over" those many varied little projects will have a hard time slipping through the "Darwinian net" of free software projects. In fact, this kind of a project would most likely require and consume too many resources it cannot be classified as a free software project anymore. It would then become a project calling forth disciplines among its organizers, sets of standardized rules and codes, and dedicated time and efforts, among others. It rings a bell of a government, which calls forth a regime of methodically salaried bureaucrats in order to manage its people's and nation's resources in the most beneficial way to the most of its constituents, or, of a corporation, which employs the same approach and tools towards managing resources (equate "people," "nation" and "constituents" to "shareholders").

In other words, a compunding type of project such as FSM, from the above analysis, could mean a birth of an unwanted nemesis whose existence, in competing for resources, would roil an already established structure such as IBM. From this perspective (and the current paradigm of getting survived), it doesn't take a nuclear scientist at IBM to block support to increasing the chances of the survival of a rival such as FSM.

FSM's open lamentation on IBM's denial of support may be one of our most trying cases of today's global search of a model of true harmony among coexistences of our fellow human beings, governments and corporations.

.....
I have no bananas and monkeys punch line.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Hey , i thought you were going to answer the question:

"Why (most) medium sized free software projects are doomed (or, IBM said “no”)"

But either i'm too dumb or you did not give a clear answer :S.

I've been reading Free Software Magazine from its very start (first issue) , I like almost all of the articles i've read here, because i LIKE the free software movement, i love this community where passion for things happens to be the main driving force... and (for me) should be the ONLY force when you wanna do something,... i feel that's what the world should move by, passion, without that we're lost.
That's all the "magic" here. And then comes the wish of freedom, of sharing, of learning , teaching , feedback!!, pure and rewarding feedback, and more passion with each one of those practices.

With respect to the question you wrote as the article's title. I have a really simple and clear answer:

All is about the community you create around. The fact here is that you're not pointing only to a geek/hacker/nerd public you're pointing to a more general (and sane :P) public. So it takes a bit longer to see its fruits. I bet this project is gonna grow A LOT, and it's going through the right way.

BTW, consider spreading more links around, because it still seems the project is hidden in some part of the net.

--
arkaino.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I agree with the comment from the IT guy in India. I don't know how you truly approched IBM, but you need to make a business case to show that there is a good reason for them to "invest" in this userbase. THey would not be just investing in the magazine, but the readership as well. They'll want basic user statistics so they are able to target their advertising to your users. I do disagree with some of the statements about this site not being worth it and free software is different than open source. They are just being petty. Probably just jealous of your large userbase. Just waive your userbase at them a few times and they might go away.

"You are like the buzzing of flies to him!" - Dr. Janosz Poha, Ghostbusters 2, 1989

Terry Hancock's picture

Gigi: "Did a very great king give you that, Aunt Alicia?"
Alicia: "No, a little one. Great Kings don't give the big presents, Gigi."
Gigi: "Why not?"
Alicia: "I suppose it's because they don't feel they have to."

Maybe IBM was the wrong company to ask?

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I love open source and free stuff, I use it and I produce some.
But one thing I haven't been able to cure is my wife's and children's bad habit...
they want to eat every day!

BitShifter's picture
Submitted by BitShifter on

I know a lot of medium programs don't get the appreciation they deserve. A lot of free software out there go bust because of lack of funding. Same as any business, or NGO really. Those that get recognized either have a lot of funding or outstanding qualities. Dog eat dog and all.

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Tony Mobily's picture

Biography

Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine