Yesterday, at the GitHub Satellite event 2019, GitHub launched probably its most game-changing yet debatable feature – Sponsors. GitHub Sponsors works exactly like Patreon, in the sense that developers can sponsor the efforts of a contributor “seamlessly through their GitHub profiles”.
Developers will be able to opt into having a “Sponsor me” button on their GitHub repositories and open-source projects where they will be able to highlight their funding models. GitHub shared that they will cover payment processing fees for the first 12 months of the program to celebrate the launch. “100% percent of your sponsorship goes to the developer,” GitHub wrote in an announcement. At launch, this feature is marked as “wait list” and is currently in beta. To start off this program, the code hosting site has also launched GitHub Sponsors Matching Fund. This means that it will match all contributions up to $5,000 during a developer’s first year in GitHub Sponsors.
GitHub sponsors could prove beneficial for developers working on open source software, that isn’t profitable. This way they can easily raise money from GitHub directly which is the leading repository for open-source software. More importantly, GitHub sponsors is not just limited to software developers, but all open-source contributors, including those who write documentation, provide leadership or mentor new developers, for example. This and the promising zero fees to use the program has got people excited.
— Guillermo ▲ (@rauchg) May 24, 2019
“GitHub will not charge fees for GitHub Sponsors. And to celebrate the launch, we’ll cover payment processing costs for the first year, too! One-hundred percent of your sponsorship goes to the developer.”
GitHub sponsors is dope, but no fees? That’s *huge.* https://t.co/gxKKE6BkmG
— EricaJoy (@EricaJoy) May 23, 2019
While on the flip side, GitHub Sponsors can also limit the essence of what open source is, by financially influencing developers on what they will work on. It may drive open-source developers to focus on projects that are more likely to attract financial contributions over projects which are more interesting and challenging but aren’t likely to find financial backers on GitHub. This can hurt FOSS contributions as people start to expect to be paid rather than doing it for inherent motivations. This, in turn, could lead to toxic politics among project contributors regarding who gets credit and who gets paid. Companies could also use GitHub sponsorships to judge the health of open source projects.
People are also speculating that this can possibly be Microsoft’s (GitHub’s parent company) strategy to centralize and enclose open source community dynamics, as well as benefit from its monetization. Some are also wondering the plausible effects of monetization on OSS, which can possibly lead to mega corporations profiteering off free labor, thus changing the original vision of an open source community.
I am an open source freelancer who makes a living from open source, and I openly protest GitHub processing donation payments.
This is NOT about a nice new feature, this is about a multi-year Microsoft strategy to centralize and enclose open source community dynamics. https://t.co/kS6LPvc6FL
— André Staltz (@andrestaltz) May 23, 2019
Andre Staltz also made an interesting point about the potential on the zero fee model driving out other open source payment models from existence. He believes once Microsoft’s dominance is achieved Github’s commissions could go up.
It will happen (they will prevent). It's all about soft gradual deployment. First it's zero fee, then it'll rise. And initially there is support for other payment channels, but this will change. Mark my words, that's the playbook of centralized giants.
— André Staltz (@andrestaltz) May 23, 2019
A Hacker News user also conjectured that this may also get Microsoft access to data on top-notch developers. “Will this mean that Microsoft gets a bunch of PII on top-notch developers (have to enter name + address info to receive or send payments), and get much more value from that data than I can imagine?”
At present GitHub is offering this feature as an invite-only beta with a waitlist, it will be interesting to see if and how this will change the dynamics of open source collaboration, once it rolls out fully. A tweet observes:
“I think it bears repeating that the path to FOSS sustainability is not individuals funding projects. We will only reach sustainability when the companies making profit off our work are returning value to the Commons.”