Debian Money

debian-fundingSteve McIntyre the leader of the Debian distribution recently posted a request for what to do about all this money that the Debian organisation has acquired. I thought I’d add my two fake pennies, since I’ve talked about economics in FOSS before and the failure of the DunkTank1 was an interesting case study.

So here are my first thoughts on money in the Debian project:

  1. Consider ownership, who is the arbour and decider and who does responsibility stop with.
  2. Money isn’t as useful as the flow of money, paying for people/work/etc needs continued donations (as is already known).
  3. Needs dedicated tools for managing and tracking money in a public way, none of which I can find in use.
  4. Donors in future should specify exactly what the money should be used for, designate project where money is required and how much.
  5. Learn from the capitalist system, create automated mechanisms for handling value so as to avoid politics.

Most interesting to me is the automated mechanisms. Here we have a team of people who believe in the democratic process and will have to discuss and talk about what to do with the money and no one will really agree fully. So what if you gave everyone a share of the money? Or more usefully, what if you gave everyone involved in the project a voting share of the money, where they can decide what to spend their allotment on based upon how well argued the case is for various projects? It would collapse a lot of problems you get when you have an organisational administrative effect over the control of certain resources (i.e. Authoritarian Socialism) but you’d have a new set of problems too…

You’d still have the problem of deciding how much of a share each person would get of course. You could do it equally or you could base it on some metric such as number of packages managed or amount of work put in. But they’re all difficult to manage really. You’d also have people who would like to inject their real cash into the system (possible not a bad thing) and once you’ve got some of these mechanisms tried out and you’ve got one that works, it could be replicated to provide some sort of income for dedicated full time FOSS developers.

But then no matter what they do they’re going to need to record everything: Where the money is, where the money is needed and where the money is coming from, project info, updates and speculation. Sounds like a job for a whole group of developers right? Tools will be helpful in making sure money and promises don’t get corrupted or forgotten.

Anyway, the Debian community is in a unique position to try out some fairly progressive ideas about managing money in a group context and I’ll be keeping and eye on it for inspiration and possibly even some interesting social tools.

1 An event where by Debian leaders wanted to pay certain Debian developers and/or administrators to do some tasks that would not be done otherwise.