Making Money With Open Source Software: What Is Our Responsibility?

Free, open source software powers much of the web. And it’s part of what makes the web design industry so unique.

Could you imagine a traditional line of work that relies so heavily on inexpensive tools? The concept would probably be incomprehensible to anyone from an accountant to a zoologist. But it’s something that web designers have come to accept and, to some extent, expect.

Whether it’s building a website with WordPress, creating a layout with Bootstrap, or storing data through MySQL, it’s a daily occurrence. And these tools are just a few examples. We have tons of free options – each helping us do our work more efficiently.

This has been the case for years. And things have gone very smoothly. Some tools come and go, but the underlying philosophy of open source software is gone. But that seems to be changing.

Recently, there has been talk of so-called “free riders” who benefit from such projects without having to give back.

That is the question of what responsibility we have when using free and open source software for commercial purposes. What do we owe, if anything?

The following is not a definitive answer. Instead, it’s a collection of ideas on how we might come to a better understanding of the issue, as well as some simple actions we can take.

Take a Free Free Ride

Granted, the free rider debate has mostly been about corporate users. The main topic of discussion was not the everyday freelancer.

But the lines can get blurred. Consider that anyone with the desire and skill can extend open source software. Therefore, they can also benefit financially from their efforts.

This was encouraged within the WordPress community. Many themes and plugins have become successful through commercial or freemium offerings. Once a certain status is reached, will that developer be part of the conversation?

Likewise, one could build a custom plugin specific to a client’s project. With that, we are not just making money from building a website. We are also able to charge more for a custom solution designed around the core software.

A freelancer’s ability to repeat this process could lead to significant growth. In the eyes of some observers, a threshold could be crossed as income increases.

The Inconvenient Truth About Free and Open Source Software

There seems to be so much gray area when it comes to giving back for some open source projects. There are arbitrary standards for who should contribute and how they should do so. Etiquette is often told but not clearly defined.

Additionally, the fact that an app or framework is released publicly ensures that users will benefit to some extent. Some will use them in ways the author did not expect or intend. Others will discover ways to profit from it.

This could make the stakeholders of the project squeamish. But it is also the reality of our world. Technology can be used for good, bad, and everything in between. It’s part of the risk you take when you let anyone access your creation.

If everyone, from an individual entrepreneur to a large hosting company, can use an app without hindrance, it should come as no surprise that some will refuse to play nice. In a competitive market, people are looking for a leading edge. Ethically, sometimes their actions go against the grain.

When software is released publicly, some people may use it in unintended ways.

What Should We Do?

What is input can be interpreted. There are official and unofficial ways to do that. With that, it’s up to each of us to think about what we want to give back to the projects we benefit from – or if we want to give back at all.

If your skills and schedule allow for an official role, then volunteering is a great way to say thank you. Regardless of the software, there is almost always a need for human resources. Even a few hours a month can make a positive impact.

Not everyone has the time, resources or expertise to dedicate to official contribution channels. However, unofficial efforts are also worthwhile.

If you fall into this category, there are still valuable ways to pay it forward:

Consider Software Licensing

This type of contribution does not require any grand gestures or public declarations. By using an app, you agree to the terms of its license. From there, it’s up to you to follow through.

For example, there may be rules for redistribution or use of companion software that follow a set of standards. Staying within these limits is good practice and shows respect for those who put their valuable time into the project.

This is the least we can do to help a project fulfill its promise.

Share Your Knowledge and Experience

If you have experience with an app, take some time to share it with others. Give tips, tutorials, or comments via social media or blog. Tell your clients how their organization can benefit from the software.

This raises awareness, which is the pulse of many open source offerings. It is especially important for small projects that do not have widespread name recognition.

As an aside, it’s also worth letting the people behind the project know about your efforts. They will probably appreciate the recognition.

Support the Ecosystem

A healthy ecosystem is often part of a successful open source project. Consider WordPress as a prime example. If third-party themes and plugins weren’t available, the core software wouldn’t be as attractive. Stretching means a lot.

You can support the ecosystem by using and promoting your favorite items. Purchase commercial versions if they suit your needs. And you can contribute to your own creation as well.

Recognize Other Contributors

A lot of work goes into making great tools. It requires a number of hours spent on design, development, support and other areas. But it doesn’t have to be a thankless job.

Taking the time to say “thank you” to the participants is a great way. Often, we only see the negatives in the public sphere. So a quick note of encouragement can make all the difference.

Again, it doesn’t have to be anything spectacular. Whether it’s a shout out on Twitter or an email, spread a positive point. It’s something everyone needs to hear now and again.

There are many official and unofficial ways to give back to an open source project.

Consider the Software We Use

In this age of powerful open source software and near-instant downloads, it’s easy to underestimate what we have. And no one can blame you if you tend to focus on the task at hand. That’s a natural part of running a business or having a job.

At the same time, it is important to take a step back and think about the software we use. Where does it come from? Who built it? How have their efforts affected us?

Then think about what you can give back. All contributions may not be equal. But they are all matter nonetheless.

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By LocalBizWebsiteDesign

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