Saying Thanks in the Gift Culture

Posted 9 Dec 2003 at 08:29 UTC by connolly Share This

The traditional way to say thanks is to contribute some code or documentation or maybe just a few nice words or a link from a visible place; but I wonder how well these services and software will survive the various threats, and I will go so far as to suggest that we invest a little bit of actual money into those things that we want to continue.

When I first discovered advogato, I felt like a bit of an outsider, having done most of my serious software development on closed-source projects. I was quite surprised to be certified as master. But after Sobig.F cut me off from my collaborators for a week (argh!), crackers cut me off from much of debian for who knows how long, and cert inflation threatens the integrity of advogato itself, I realize how much I value this community.

On the occasion of my birthday, as a member of the gift culture, I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you to various groups and individuals that support the free software and services I use every day. The traditional way to say thanks is to contribute some code or documentation or maybe just a few nice words or a link from a visible place; but I wonder how well these services and software will survive the various threats, and I will go so far as to suggest that we invest a little bit of actual money into those things that we want to continue.

A while back I wrote some code (telagent) to use a modem to dial the phone when I follow links to telephones (i.e. URIs that look like tel:+1-617-253-2613). It worked great for months, and then I rebooted my machine for some reason and my internal ISA modem reverted to the 7th plane of IRQ conflict hell. I asked for help in #debian, and some 14 year old kid spent 3 hours trouble-shooting my situation and teaching me all sorts of details about how PC IRQs and plug-n-play BIOSes and such work. When it was working, I was so happy that I offered to give him $5 or $10 for his trouble.

He declined. I could see where he was coming from; I tell my kids not to take candy from strangers and such...

So I decided to give the money to the debian project. I didn't get around to it until a couple years later, but this January I wrote them a check for $50. They don't seem to want to cash it. I needed a phone number to write the check thru my bank web site; I asked the SPI treasurer and he gave me one by email, so there was somebody home just before I wrote the check. I just now checked the payee address against the SPI donations page, and it matches. I followed up in email on 28 June to but I don't see a reply. Can anybody help me get this money where it belongs?

When I discovered bittorrent, I thought it was so nifty that I donated a few bucks. That went much more smoothly. I donated to one of the dynamic DNS services too; can't remember which one any more.

I just ordered a new printer thru amazon. I think the linux printing web site is great, and I made sure to follow their amazon affiliates link on my way to purchasing the printer. I agree with Jakob Nielsen that affiliate programs are great; they make saying "thank you for the clue" automatic. Let's try it together, shall we? amazon is running a special on the t-mobile sidekick, my favorite WearableGizmo: $20 after rebate. flat-rate data. Hiptop google. Real POP/SMTP email. even IMAP and ssh.

I'd like to see linux USB support sites as good as the linux printing site. I bought a $49 quickcam express (UPACode 097855011985), thinking it was the same model that a friend reported to work well. Trying it with mod_quickcam crashed my machine hard! Turns out the USB ID is 0x46d/0x870. Argh! This is the quickcam for notebooks! Closer inspection of the Micro Center receipt reveals "REV2". Sigh... there ought to be a law about hardware interfaces, kinda like ingredients and nutrition info on food labels. No fair changing the chips and such inside without changing the information on the package. But I digress...

Back to ways of saying thank you, the #debian channel runs on freenode, which participates in Affero. "Affero allows people to express their appreciation by contributing to the causes of your choice." I can't speak from first-hand experience yet, but it looks interesting.

Finally, thanks to the evolution folks for supporting immersive hypertext editing combined with elephant-never-forgets robustness so that I could compose this article without looking at pointy brackets and worrying that my web browser or laptop power would go kerflewey before I hit POST.

Don't forget..., posted 9 Dec 2003 at 11:58 UTC by chalst » (Master)

Don't forget sending messages of support in your haste to write cheques. These aren't just motivators, they can make a difference.

giftware, posted 9 Dec 2003 at 17:49 UTC by judge » (Master)

A while a I some project where author asked people to send him postcards if they like it. I think that's the most excellent reward one can get.

Challenge your LUG, posted 9 Dec 2003 at 19:37 UTC by abg » (Journeyer)

This dovetails nicely with another idea:

Donate $20 and challenge your LUG members to do the same - make it a group activity.
  • Choose a 'theme' for people to give to - libraries (SDL, libpng, libmikmod, etc), X apps, CLI apps, etc.
  • Let them break it up however they want: $10 and $10. $10, $5, $5. $20.
  • Keep track (letting people be listed as anon is a must), write it up and publicize the results. FooLUG donates $540 to FOSS!

I keep meaning to implement this at my LUG, but I haven't gotten around to it yet...

Gifts vs Cash, posted 10 Dec 2003 at 10:52 UTC by Stevey » (Master)

Whilst rewards are good - and indeed I do pimp out my Amazon wishlist a lot - I think that a simple email is just as good and can go a long way.

I'm lucky enough to have a job so I don't need extra cash, but having books/films/music donated is very satisfying honestly I'd rather receive ten emails of thanks than one gift.

People really do seem to focus on getting cash which suprises me. Maybe it's because I'm in the UK and a lot of the donations seem to be mentioned in dollars which would be impractical for me to receive.

I have never donated cash to a project no matter how good, because it's not clear that I'm helping the project in a real way. If there was a project where the author wanted a book on some coding techniques I'd be happy to give that., because it would be clear that this directly aided the project continuing.

Hardware, books, films, and postcards I've sent to people on some projects that I appreciate and am thankful for, but cash? No.

in an ideal world, posted 10 Dec 2003 at 21:32 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

in an ideal world, there would be a foundation - a trusted one! - to which donations could be made, such that funds could then be allocated to projects in need of cash, hardware, resources, books etc.

in an ideal world, every programmer that worked on major projects would be financially independent.

as things are panning out, the way things are is pretty much it: those people not financially independent are sponsored by companies with a vested financial interest in ensuring that the project remains successful.

the corollary is, of course, that those projects in which companies do _not_ forsee a financial or other gain for themselves will never get sponsorship, and consequently the programmers working on them must seek alternative funding methods.

on another note, when i _was_ being funded to work on samba, because i was very insecure (that's not to say that other people are!) it meant a hell of a lot to me to receive messages of thanks and support.

but what meant even more to me was working with other people on the project - contributions and discussions: that was really special. [corollary of course that it really hurt when people that i really respected didn't want to know, but that's my problem to deal with].

ah, such is life. it just all depends what turns you on.

btw, for those people who may have forgotten, here's a link to a former advogato article containing some advice on seeking financial independence: Open Investment. it became a bit long as it sparked off some really interesting feedback.

Funnily enough, at around the same time, like a day later, i saw some articles on other internet sites, one of which basically said "if you want to be a project leader, you have to have these things: 1) financial independence 2) ... etc.". does anyone who knows what i am referring to have a url for the article, or remember who posted it?

maneki neko, posted 12 Dec 2003 at 20:24 UTC by nixnut » (Journeyer)

This article reminded me of a story by Bruce Sterling I read a while ago. Those who've read it will understand why, those who haven't might want to put it on their to-read-list. It's a fun, short story

Saying "thank you", posted 12 Dec 2003 at 20:37 UTC by salmoni » (Master)

The open source/Free software community is a nebulous thing. As ESR (I believe) put it, trying to control us is like trying to "herd cats" (a metaphor which I totally adore!).

We differ on politics, standards, self-image and pretty much in every way possible. I see this as a source of frustration for many end-users who consider the community to be a single organisation (try reading OS News when someone brings out a new Linux distro and read the comments like "stop reinventing the wheel!" - they just don't understand that the FOSS community is just not a single organisation, rather individuals who do their own thing).

However, I think that if there is one thing that unites us, it is this: a simple thank you goes a long, long way.

Personally, it encourages me: if I cannot perceive anyone using my software, it seems kind of pointless and futile: after all, why bother putting together packages for different OS's when it runs perfectly well for me as source code? Why bother committing to SourceForge's CVS when I can use my home machine and keep the code to myself and save time?

However, one email from someone who thought my software was worthwhile using makes all the difference. Then, I am in touch with the world of people using it (and there are a few using mine: I know, because it's mirrored at Universities all around the world). Suddenly, there is a point and this motivation goes a long way towards new features, bug fixes and everything else. Suddenly, I want to do better, do more, and make better software.

As for money or gifts? Never had one apart from an encouragement to speak at EuroPython (which was extremely cool in itself), so I'm not qualified to comment. I can imagine that some cash would be useful, especially as I can't afford to go out tonight (altogether: "ahh, poor thing" ;) !

Re: Gifts vs Cash, posted 14 Dec 2003 at 09:36 UTC by dan » (Master)

I have never donated cash to a project no matter how good, because it's not clear that I'm helping the project in a real way. If there was a project where the author wanted a book on some coding techniques I'd be happy to give that., because it would be clear that this directly aided the project continuing.

I'm very happy to get cash donations: I'm self-employed, so the relationship between time and money is, for me, pretty direct. The more money coming in from free software, the more time I can afford to spend on it.

I can see that people who work for employers would view this differently, though. Sometimes people are also understandably reluctant to take donations for comparatively small amounts because they view it as setting up some kind of obligation towards the donor. I think the best thing to do is simply to ask the developers of the project you want to support what they'd prefer.

BitPass, posted 14 Dec 2003 at 23:29 UTC by pfh » (Master)

I'm with all the people saying an email of thanks makes a huge difference.

For small donations, the new BitPass system may be a good option. While the main thrust of BitPass is only allowing access to content after a small payment, it also includes a donation system. Nicely designed, very little fuss for users, and the accounting fees are quite reasonable and don't wipe out sub-dollar donations.

There are a lot of projects i'd be quite happy to give half a dollar to as a matter of course while downloading their software.

Given some Round Tuits..., posted 18 Dec 2003 at 15:09 UTC by cbbrowne » (Master)

I put together a proposal for a sort of "gift registry" Free Software Gift Exchange that would do much what has been described above.

I think it is an excellent idea for a LUG to encourage their members to send a card with $20 to their individually-favorite projects; that would certainly go a long ways towards encouraging developers, whether it's of vital economic value or not...

Just an e-mail alone would be welcome, posted 6 Jan 2004 at 16:06 UTC by dyork » (Master)

I'll agree with others that often just an e-mail of thanks is enough to brighten one's day.

I have certainly seen that with my own work with makefaq that I put out several years ago. What has been most cool is to receive e-mails with URLs where people have created FAQ pages using makefaq. To be able to go there and see what people have done with the program you created is quite fun... and rewarding. It's nice to know that you have been able to help people out in some small way.

As an author/developer, I find that I very often wonder if people find it useful. I see in the web logs the number of times the program gets downloaded, but I almost never get any feedback. So, I wonder - was it useful? Did they actually use it? Or did they just download it, try it out, and then delete it? What did they use it for? How did it help them? Are there things they wish it would do?

So I, for one, wouldn't mind getting an occasional e-mail of thanks.

I've taken to trying to do that myself... whenever I download a new program and find I like it, I've tried to send in an e-mail to the author just to say thanks.

Now, if I were self-employed, I'd certainly appreciate cash, but that does create its own issues (receiving it, etc.). Given that some people did ask me what they could do, I did put up a page requesting postcards and that has been fun. I've actually received several and given that my snail-mail is pretty much all junk or bills (as all my correspondents have moved online) it's been a fun surprise to receive a postcard.

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