Change of heart. Inkscape starts encouraging paid development


After years of being dead against paid development, Inkscape Board revisited the controversial topic and came up with a policy that encourages personal (crowd)funded projects to add new features and fix bugs in this popular free/libre vector graphics editor.

Why just now?

The problem that the Board used to have with paid development was the assumed inequality of contributors in financial terms and, therefore, possible disturbance in the community — despite hard evidence to the contrary from projects like Blender .

Also, despite the fact that every GSoC project mentored by the organization since 2005 was a case of paid development.

Moreover, despite successful community-funded work on the Text tool by Tavmjong Bah in 2010.

The latter example is, however, debatable. Originally a completely different Inkscape contributor with a good track record was supposed to work on this project, but he stepped down. Even more, the first attempt at collecting mere $1300 to do the job simply failed, and it took a considerable amount of efforts to get the project funded.

If you think of how much was actually done , and how much time Tav put into this, you might arrive at the conclusion that the cost of the project was rather undervalued. But it did demonstrate that community-funded development of Inkscape could be done.

What are the rules?

In a way, the newly published Inkscape Funded Development Model follows the core idea of that first fundraiser. A quick summary would look like this.

In a nutshell, if you have a decent track record in the project, and someone (community, enterprise, government, alien invaders) is willing to fund your work, you are welcome to get cracking, provided you reach mutual agreement with the Inkscape Board that a) the project idea makes sense, b) you really appear to have the expertise to work on it. You should also be prepared for your performance to be reviewed.

The full document is far more verbose, we suggest you have a go at it. So far there have been no submissions, but the announcement was made only few days ago.

Will other projects “wake up” and follow Inkscape?

If you’ve patiently read this far instead of scrolling down to the comments section to write something along the lines of “But despicable {project} developers don’t get that!”, thank you.

Here’s one important thing that needs to be pointed out. Crowdfunding is frequently seen as a kind of silver bullet for free/libre software projects, and projects that don’t actively embrace this revenue model are increasingly often pictured as backwards-thinking, doomed to fail etc.

While the bit about doom is certainly debatable, the bit about backward thinking only displays communication breakdown between users and developers on levels such as human resources, motivation etc.

For instance, it would be quite impossible for Synfig to get anywhere with their monthly funding goals if it wasn’t for Konstantin Dmitriev’s decision to take over the organizational role and get a full-time developer involved.

During an interview in early 2013, Konstantin confessed the project simply wasn’t structured at the time in a way that would make crowdfunding a sensible idea. Several months later he fixed that at the (ongoing) cost of his personal unpaid time.

Somewhat similarly, it’s quite impossible for the existing GIMP team to go for paid development in its current state, because most active contributors already have jobs, and the little time they have is spread thinly between work, family, and writing the code for the project.

Coincidentally, GIMP developers are actually fond of personal fundraisers. They even directly promoted two such projects: new advanced resamplers in GEGL (half the money collected, half the job done) and mirrored painting (nearly funded, some preliminary work done). Whether they will embrace this in an official way, like Inkscape, is an open question: someone credible needs to step up and volunteer to do organizational work to fill the void.

TL;DR

Paid development in free/libre software projects is a complicated topic. Making this actually work involves far more than setting up a campaign at a crowdfunding platform and banging the drums to draw attention. And “opening the mind to the possibilities” seems to be second (more likely, tenth) to actually having human resources to allocate for organizing it all.

The Inkscape project is lucky to be in a position where all this could actually work. If you are interested in improving this vector graphics editor for a certain compensation, get involved and gain credibility.