Thoughts, reflections, and ideas

OSS and extrinsic motivators

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More and more, we see open-source projects being backed by investment rounds. It's positive for the projects because they can innovate faster and sustain themselves by paying people to work on it full-time, making money one of the main drivers, and investors’ interests the wheel that steers the boat. Is that something good or bad? It depends.

When the motivations of the people contributing to a project are extrinsic, then the chances are that when money is gone, so are the motivations to contribute to the project. When the project is more community-driven, intrinsic motivations take preference, which helps the project sustain long-term. Note that community involvement and governance are not the same, even though they are often used interchangeably.

There’s a high correlation between projects that use money as an extrinsic motivator and the amount of marketing effort they’ve poured into them. They usually have marketing copies along the lines of “we are making the web faster” that reassemble the missions from Silicon Valley companies. I refrain from building anything upon those tools and frameworks no matter how good their marketing is. When I build software, I want it to sustain in time, and to achieve that, it’s important that the blocks I build it upon can sustain too.

Note that there’ll always be economic interests when developing open-source projects. Companies contribute to open-source projects because they benefit their business. However, money here is a secondary player. The community has a substantial role in steering the project than the companies that support the project through contributions. An excellent example of this is Rails. A company like Shopify has teams dedicated to contributing to Ruby and Rails. Shopify has interests, but it can't drive the framework in a direction that only benefits Shopify.

I think this is beautiful about the Ruby community, and recently in Javascript through projects like Vue, Vite, Rollup, and Svelte. You can sense a community behind it that connects all the different pieces in harmony and builds a strong community around it. This is the type of OSS that aligns with my principles and upon which I build the software that I craft.