3 min read

Open Source Sustainability is an essential and special part of free and open software development. Open source contributors and maintainers build tools and technologies for everyone, but they’ don’t get enough resources, tools, and environment. If anything goes wrong with the project, it is generally the system contributors who are responsible for it. In reality, however, contributors, and maintainers together are equally responsible.

Yesterday, Devon Zuegel, the open source product manager at GitHub penned a blog post talking about open source sustainability and what are the issues current open source maintainers face while trying to contribute to open source.

The major thing holding back OSS is the work overload that maintainers face. The OS community generally consists of maintainers who are working at some other organization while also maintaining the open source projects mostly in their free time. This leaves little room for software creators to have economic gain from their projects and compensate for costs and people required to maintain their projects. This calls for companies and individuals to donate to these maintainers on GitHub. As a hacker news user points out, “ I think this would be a huge incentive for people to continue their work long-term and not just “hand over” repositories to people with ulterior motives.” Another said, “Integrating bug bounties and donations into GitHub could be one of the best things to happen to Open Source. Funding new features and bug fixes could become seamless, and it would sway more devs to adopt this model for their projects.

Another major challenge is the abuse and frustration that maintainers have to go on a daily basis. As Devon writes on her blog, “No one deserves abuse. OSS contributors are often on the receiving end of harassment, demands, and general disrespect, even as they volunteer their time to the community.”  What is required is to educate people and also build some kind of moderation for trolls like a small barrier to entry.

Apart from that maintainers should also be given expanded visibility into how their software is used. Currently, they are only given access to download statistics. There should be a proper governance model that should be regularly updated based on the what decisions team makes, delegates, and communicates.

As Adam Jacob founder of SFOSC (Sustainable Free and Open Source Communities) points out, “I believe we need to start talking about Open Source, not in terms of licensing models, or business models (though those things matter): instead, we should be talking about whether or not we are building sustainable communities. What brings us together, as people, in this common effort around the software? What rights do we hold true for each other? What rights are we willing to trade in order to see more of the software in the world, through the investment of capital?

SFOSC is established to discuss the principles that lead to sustainable communities, to develop clear social contracts communities can use, and educate Open Source companies on which business models can create true communities.

As with SFOSC, Github also wants to better understand the woes of maintainers from their own experiences and hence the blog. Devon wants to support the people behind OSS at Github inviting people to have an open dialogue with the GitHub community solving nuanced and unique challenges that the current OSS community face.

She has created a contact form asking open source contributors or maintainer to join the conversation and share their problems.

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