Building a business community

Hi community community,

I’ve recently been intrigued by the concept of an open source business model. There are all sorts of great open source software and hardware projects out there. There are many companies turning a nice profit from developing and distribute open source goods and services. I think this is wonderful, but there are a great many more wonderful open source projects being developed by the unsung heroes of the open source community working out of the goodness of their heart. I’d love to be one of those people, but I’ll admit my contribution to open source projects is quite minimal. I find that working for the man magically puts money in my bank account.

So, is there a way to fairly compensate people’s efforts toward large collaborative projects?

I’ve been brainstorming this for a few days now and I remembered that CodingHorror blog I read when I was writing a lot of software. Could something like StackExchange or Discourse be a model for real compensation for an open source business?

I like the concept of a trust rating or reputation. E.g. Perhaps as an engineer I see that a certain robotics project could use better motor control algorithms so I submit a pull request to the code, the community ranks how useful or valuable that code is, and when the company starts selling these robots, I get a slice of the pi based on my contribution. Maybe I’m an certified accountant and I’m looking for some freelance work. I like the mission and vision of Company X so I prepare their taxes, the community really appreciates this so I get a good rating and a larger slice of the pi. Maybe there more meta involved and as a community appointed manager over sales, my value is asses by how well I asses the value of my sales teams contributions.

Perhaps business decisions could be made by a community rather than by executive decision? E.g. John has a reputation of 10 and Jane has a reputation of 20 in the manufacturing department. Steve from the operations department needs need some defect data for a particular part. John posts a quick graph that’s enough to get Steve through his 2:00 meeting which earns him some reputation (compensation?) Jane follows up with a detailed analysis which let’s Steve ultimately decide to go with a better supplier which boosts Jane’s reputation even higher. In turn, Steve did a great job working with manufacturing and presents his information to the Purchasing group which increases his credibility. So there wouldn’t be traditional job titles and roles, but communities that drive the company.

What do you think? Could this work? What other aspects could be considered when trying to pull a large community together to form a solid open business model?


Between “fair compensation in large collaborative projects” and “community-led business” you are conflating two immensely difficult tasks that don’t necessarily need to be solved in tandem.

As far as I’m concerned the foremost authority on this is Nadia Eghbal:

Different projects require different models. For a lot of next-generation protocols at the infrastructure layer I’m personally very excited about the application of blockchain/crypto technology, explained very succinctly in “Fat Protocols”.

There’s a bunch of different “open governance” experiments out there. Usually they’re called “coops”. They’re great in theory but they are incredibly hard to pull off with lasting success. The most recent one I looked into was

My take is that it’s better to start off with a traditional structure that vows to grow more decentralised over time. Building a good product is hard enough on its own.


Thanks Erlend. I’ve done very little research on the matter and just trying to get feedback on ideas I’ve had independently. That’s a good start.

Good point about separating the concepts of compensation and governance. I’m still curious about ideas regarding both and there could still be some cross-over.

I think you’re correct regarding open governance.

Still, if it wasn’t hard to pull off, then there wouldn’t be an reason to discuss it. I’ve been poking around and there are some really smart people thinking about this, but it’s a very new concept in today’s economy.

I still think however there could be very good contexts for an open governance model. For example, certain non-profit organizations (still businesses) that greatly value transparency more than the bottom line.

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Great topic. I think it’s important to consider that “compensation” comes in many forms and varies from individual to individual.

I found this article interesting:


The idea is great…however, I think that the process will be complicated…

In online marketing this compensation would be a “do-follow backlink” to the contributor’s website.

You could also invite top contributors as keynote speakers to your event. A good way for contributors to get publicity (clients) at such events. That a look at Wordpress centered WordCamp event.

In terms of creating a sustainable open source business, I have to agree with this article:

I’m not sure what you’re trying to say here regarding backlinks and publicity events. What I mean to say is, for many open source projects, the project goals and content are usually open to public contribution. Anyone can participate in the project. E.g. I want to develop a few lines of code to improve the Linux kernel, or I have a great circuit schematic for an Arduino project. If there are profits made by selling the final results of these projects, how can the individual contributors be recognized and fairly compensated?

There are many marketing strategies for selling open source products and/or services to make a profit. I think the Forbes article is poorly titled. While it explains marketing strategies for selling open source products, it doesn’t mention anything about an open business model. For example, Red Hat Linux offers support services and specialized software deployments to manage already open-source Linux based servers (Marketing strategy). The money they make goes to the company to pay stakeholders, employees, buy assets, fund R&D, etc. as management and the board of directors dictates (business model). There are tens of thousands of developers who have contributed in many ways to actually develop Linux and it’s components that Red Hat relies on. Most get absolutely nothing from Red Hat as a company who benefits from their work.

From the Red Hat website:

Software Contributions

At Red Hat, we live our mission to be the catalyst in communities of contributors, customers, and partners.
We are a proud contributor to all aspects of the software stack, from the operating system and developer toolchain to middleware, the desktop, and the cloud. In addition Red Hat supports financially a number of Open Source software organizations who help us create and maintain better open source software.

Red Hat hires people and pays them to contribute to public open source projects when it aligns with their corporate strategy. They also will “compensate” you with swag and publicity if you evangelize their products and services. I suppose this is one way to compensate contributors. Still, the open source community is what really drives many of these projects. Now when there’s a big company providing much of the development, the goals and visions of these projects will be influenced according to the interests of the company.

Could a tool be developed to build a community where the goals and vision are steered by all of the contributors?

Read a few of Nadia’s things. Great ideas. She’s definitely thought about this way more than I have.

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