The state of the Linux community

Updated: August 11, 2013

What prompted me to write this article were two things. One, the recent donation drive on Tuxmachines. Two, the announcement about the closing of The H, which you may also have known as The H: Open Source, Security and Development. What is common for both these announcement is the obvious difficulty in having a sustainable financial model when running sites dealing in Linux.

This gave me an idea for an article. At first, I wanted to debate this from the standpoint of guilt, and blame the community, because, well, it's kind of true, in a way. Then, I thought about it some more, and figured a more positive angle could work better. So let me tell you why should strive to be better people.


The greatest philanthropist alive

Bragging is my middle name, but in this case, it is warranted. I want to tell you about several community efforts that I've undertaken over the years. I don't expect false praise and excess flattery, not too much anyway, but I do expect you to understand the importance of actively contributing to the community.

Anyhow, every year, I donate about 400 dollars to animal shelters and several hundred dollars more to various Linux sites and projects. Sometimes, I will buy video games from certain companies even if I do not really intend to play them. Why? Because I believe good things and good efforts deserve a reward. If you are using a certain product created by the community, and you like it, you give back.

Some people may contribute in the form of bug fixes, code snippets, others will do extensive PR online, some will review products in order to point out the flaws and help make them betters, others yet will focus on QA during beta releases. Software, as you can imagine, the bread and butter of what we call Linux, right. However, none of these efforts work quite as well as pure money.


Money, it's a blast

If you really want to help your favorite sites and projects, you need to focus on money. This is the one thing that will really make it possible for the creators and owners of said sites and projects to continue their work. Because no matter how friendly the community is, neither reviews, nor bugfixes, nor kind words will finance servers, bills or anything of that sort. Here's a bold claim - the Linux community likes to take, it does not like to give.

We all think we're being fair and kind and considerate, and how the free and open-source models really thrive. We also like to take credit for making it happen, but the thing is, the community as a whole plays a very small part, and most of the burdens falls on the shoulders of the people running these project. Lots of time, they give their best for a few years, try hard, try harder, run out of steam and budget, make the inevitable conclusions, and move on.

Let me give you my own example, and then we will branch out across the Internet. About forty percent of all Dedoimedo visitor block Javascript and/or advertisements when visiting here. I fully understand their logic and/or ideology, because I do not like ads myself. However, the only person they are supposedly hurting is me and not the big corporations that actually run the advertisement networks. On a typical non-techie website discussing flowers, human rights in various countries, and general politics, you will see a fairly high level of income from ads. With technical sites, the revenue goes down by an order of magnitude or lower. Why? Because geeks do not like ads. Plain and simple.

Block ads

End result, the big companies keep making money off people in their normal channels and simple ignore the nerds as an outlier in their traffic statistics. End result, tech-oriented sites and projects trying to better the world, e.g. Linux, suffer from this attitude.

Another example would be my Golf GTI effort. It did not quite turn as I expected, right, but then it's also sort of an unfunny joke and a weird social experiment, although I would like the said car to be parked in front of my house. Anyhow, quite understandable, but it highlights the difficulty someone might face when trying to kickstart serious funding for whatever they might be doing.

Golf GTI

I clearly remember Ars Technica calling its readers to turn off ad blockers to support the site. Susan Linton asks the same thing from her own audience. When someone goes out there with a public cry for help, it's not an easy thing. But it tells of a prevalent attitude in the technical circles to simply screw the system, regardless of the consequences. The H must have found itself in a similar predicament. Now, as a community, we could have done much better.

The power of numbers

Depending on where you go for your Linux statistics, there are approx. 50 million Linux users worldwide. That's a respectable number. Now, imagine if every one of them donated as little as one dollar annually to their favorite projects, distributions or websites. Now, imagine if everyone donated ten dollars, which is less than one dollar per month. Less than a packĀ of cigarettes.

A great example of the success of the community effort is the Humble Bundle project. You can see that when people come together, they can make great things. Now expand that. If all Linux users donate USD10/year, we have a budget of USD500M at our disposal. That's a respectable sum of money.

If this money went to just 500 different projects, it would amount to a fairly staggering one million dollars each, for one year. That's more capital than most startups can harvest in theirĀ lifetime. That's enough to really do anything you want, and then some.

So let's not give one million each. Let's give them only fifty thousand dollars. For websites, this is more than enough to buy server equipment and other hardware for testing and to pay Internet bills. For software project, the same thing. For Linux distributions, this may be a bit of a stretch, but if we give them one hundred thousand each, then they can probably hire a full-time developer plus cover all their other costs.

With USD500, we could easily support several thousand excellent websites, several thousand software projects, and several hundred distributions. Easily. Easily! And all it takes is for everyone of us, every one of YOU to donate less than one dollar every month to their favorite community project.

But let's go really crazy. What if we decided to support only the best of the best? Say just a handful of websites, several dozen software projects, and just top ten distributions. Imagine how much money could go to supporting just them. Imagine the advertisement budget. Imagine the possibilities. An unstoppable army of geeks.


Note: Image taken from Wikimedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

And all this should be done WITHOUT guilt. This should be done out of love, because you cherish and support someone else's work, and you want to express your gratitude, or even help them. This should be done with a strong desire to grow the community.

I do not expect everyone to shell hundreds of dollars for the community, because it is not feasible, and few people can afford it. Understandable. But one or two or five dollars a year is doable for a lot of people. Your contribution can also be indirect. You can buy products that these sites offer. If it's a shirt, a customized media center box, anything. But give back, because if you do not, all you'll be left with are big companies that want to DRM your Internet and your soul.

However ...

Take a look at the recent Ubuntu Edge crowdsourcing project. It has already garnered some ten million dollars from various enthusiasts and geeks worldwide, and we are talking about extremely handsome contributions worth hundreds of dollars. You do get a phone, if it works out, that is, so it is not in vain. Still, it has not yet met its goal of approx. one million a day. My fellow writer Luis on Netrunner has written more on this, so you can check his musing and pondering.

So perhaps going for large sums, even if you get a cookie in the end, might be too much for most people. Using the PayPal as a payment method is also wrong, because it sort of restricts what users can do with their money. Then maybe, the formula is a lot of small and affordable amounts. We're going back to my monthly dollar idea.


Call for action

Online petitions do not work. Revolutions do not start with a website article written in pure HTML. However, it's worth a try. I'd like to see the community contribute half a billion dollars to its champions in the coming year. One dollar a month per user. That's all.

If this happens, I guarantee you Linux will flourish beyond belief. Your favorite sites will continue operating and producing beautiful, intelligent, useful, high-quality content, against all the dross and shit out there. Your favorite software will be smarter, more robust, blessed with new features, and with a safe future. As far as Linux goes, we will eventually see more and more hardware appliance on shelves in stores, because suddenly, we will have all kinds of deals with manufacturers and services companies, and they will sure want to invest in powerful, well-funded startups.

One dollar a month, that's what you should all do.

I've done my share - it's up to you now.

Oh, and stop blacklisting your favorite sites!