How Small Businesses Can Support Community-Driven Projects

by chromatic

I promised to explore the theme of Free-loading Adoption of F/OSS in more detail. Alan Rimm-Kaufman's Why Small Businesses Should Support Open Source is a great place to start:

It doesn’t matter if your donation is large or small. It doesn’t matter if you give money or code.

What does matter is this: if you’re benefiting from the Open Source Movement, try to give something back.

It makes good business sense. And it is the right thing to do.

Before I joined O'Reilly, I worked in a small consulting company. As I joined, the company was migrating away from proprietary platforms to open platforms. We saved a tremendous amount of money and gave our customers far better service. Being able to use, modify, and redistribute free software let us finish jobs we'd never have been able to do otherwise.

In return, we submitted bug reports. We occasionally submitted patches, both on and off the clock. We knew that we owed a great deal of our business to a healthy commons of free and open source software... and now I know that keeping that commons free, open, and healthy was vital to the business.

The owner of the company allowed the Portland Perl Mongers to meet in our offices once a month. He rented chairs for the meeting. Maybe it's not a big thing, but it was a way to pay back part of one of the communities which had produced so much great software integral to our business.

You don't have to hire a core developer. You don't have to release your own (non-derivative) source code. You don't have to donate money to a foundation, or host a conference or a meeting.

You don't have to contribute back to the communities which produce software you rely on... but if you rely on it now, aren't you interested in its healthy future as well?


Dave Woldrich
2008-04-24 17:13:20
It sounds like you are backing off on your charge that organizations who benefit from free/open source have a moral obligation to contribute back to the community. Or, is there an angle you're striking at that I'm missing here?
2008-04-24 17:28:23
@Dave, I still think there's a moral obligation as well as a practical one. I'm trying to find a way to describe this all as "enlightened self interest", but I'm still thinking everything through. I'll post more tomorrow.
Zbigniew Lukasiak
2008-04-28 04:47:45
Yeah - preaching companies is not enough. What we need to do is find arguments why supporting FOSS projects is beneficial for the company. And the 'positive externality' argument - that the company will benefit if the FOSS projects it depends on will get new users and contributors and generally thrive - seems crucial here. This is business ecology.
2008-04-28 10:49:32
@Zbigniew, I really like the term "business ecology". I was stumbling toward that phrase myself. Thank you for posting it!
Zbigniew Lukasiak
2008-04-28 13:41:38
I am glad you liked it. To add to that I think this all needs to be done in small steps, we should first encourage companies to admit that they are using FOSS, to add some 'powered by ...' signs to their websites, etc. This will not cost them much - and would work to support the software they rely on - once they start to understand this simple fact they will be open for more action.