Gittip at Khan Academy

For a while now I’ve been a huge fan of Gittip. I think they’ve created one of the most interesting models for funding Open Source development.

One of the missing pieces, for most Open Source developers, is having consistent, reliable, income backing your development. Some developers are sponsored by their work place, others have a job but do Open Source work on the side. Even others may not have reliable incomes and still want to create software that isn’t tied to a specific revenue-generator. I personally use Gittip to fund hosting costs for some of my side projects.

Gittip is capable of freeing Open Source developers by allowing people to give them money on a week-by-week basis. This is intriguing as the money that comes in will come slowly – people will be less likely to give and they’ll likely give smaller amounts – but it’ll also be relatively stable (once someone is giving there will be not much reason to decrease that amount or stop giving).

I’ve been providing feedback to Chad Whitacre and the rest of the Gittip team wherever I can because this is something that I really want to succeed.

Taking a further step I looked to see what were the major pain points to growth. Right now they’re:

  1. Getting more developers signed up and asking for donations.
  2. Getting more people giving money to those developers.

I’m attempting to work with the Gittip team to help make #1 more feasible, and while I’m giving money personally, I wanted to try and get more money into the system.

I saw a great opportunity for the development team at Khan Academy to give back to the Open Source community in ways that were not just code-related.

Talking with Ben Kamens we came upon a good solution: Every developer at Khan Academy (interns included) has $5/week to give to the Open Source developers of their choice. (You’re restricted from giving that money to employees of Khan Academy though, heh.) That money would then be rolled up into a single contribution coming from the Khan Academy Gittip account.

This seemed like the ideal scenario: Developers gets full control of how their money should be allocated and Khan Academy gets the benefit of their financial contributions coming from a unified source. (Which helps to communicate to developers that we care about Open Source and that, hopefully, we’re a cool place to work, which we are.)

In the spirit of shipping beats perfection I hacked together a Google Spreadsheet which Khan Academy devs could modify to allocate their contributions.

At the moment 21 Khan Academy devs are collectively giving $57.75/week to 15 different Open Source devs. This is a great start! Unfortunately we’re trying to give $46.25 to an additional 8 devs who aren’t yet on Gittip, so our contribution is stuck in limbo. (At the moment the best we can hope for is to pester them on Twitter, etc. and get them to sign up. In some cases devs seem to be disinclined to receive donations if they already have a full-time job — in that case they should feel free to donate the money to the charity of their choice, or even just back to other devs!)

Update July 17th: We’re now up to 26 Khan Academy devs giving $89/week to 17 Open Source devs on Gittip. Another $40.25/week is being held until some additional Open Source devs join Gittip.

We’ve already started the process of contacting some of the devs that we want to support:

There is a script that I’ve made to automate the process of extracting the tips from the spreadsheet and uploading them to Gittip (run as a weekly cron job). You can find it on Github:

I want to thank Chad for helping to add in an API that would make it easier to create this script!

I hope others are as excited about Gittip as we are at Khan Academy. I strongly think that this is the future of providing developers with a financial incentive for creating useful Open Source work. Gittip is still quite young and our understanding of how this mode of contribution should work is still open for debate so I hope that this will help inspire others to give, and strive towards a financial ideal, as well.

Posted: July 16th, 2013

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