Something that I've been thinking of in recent days is about the economics of FOSS projects. The #Mastodon
instance mastodon.cloud is having some severe service disruption issues that seem to stem from its hosting service more than anything else, but the episode serves to underline the fragility of the service. It relies on pretty much just one admin who's running things in his spare time and he's clearly not able to do so for an instance with tens of thousands of users.
What makes me wonder though is the fact that financial help from users like me wouldn't necessarily solve their problems, which in this case, appear to be technical. As FOSS software begins to transform into providing SaaS in addition to traditional roles, the issue of how projects' implementation are funded and maintained will become a more prominent issue.
It's one thing to fund a developer to write code, but its entirely different to fund infrastructure on an ongoing basis. The latter cannot have time and effort donated to it on an ad hoc basis as easily as code can. There is a need for a consistent human presence that keeps everything running smoothly. This is one area where proprietary closed source software (and very large open source) companies have an advantage in that they can simply assign employees to perform the necessary roles.
Most FOSS aren't quite so lucky and indeed, often have a single individual simultaneously running the project and its implementation. The skills and abilities needed to actually run something are quite different from building something, and I'd hazard a guess that many future FOSS projects will run into dilemmas as their success becomes entirely dependent on a successful popular
Patreon and Librepay are great tools, but are not entirely ideal for addressing the problems outlined above.
What would be useful is a standardised way of providing users (and therefore backers) with a detailed breakdown of a project's needs at any given time. If server costs are an issue, there could be a meter for that. If admin help is an issue, there could be a list of acute needs for that, if code help is needed, there are already tools available to assign roles.
Reddit's meter of daily server time paid with Reddit Gold subscriptions is a good example, as is Join Diaspora's donation meter. I think more FOSS projects that intend to operate as services should consider similar ideas to provide users with a better understanding of the resources needed to keep the lights on. Most internet users aren't willing or able to host their own and in the absence of an easy way to do so, they will rely on others to do handle toe nitty gritty details for them. Transparency is important, and as we're all aware, knowing what you're getting in return is always desirable, especially if your data and/or privacy isn't part of the bargain.