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5 Innovative Ways Open Source Can generate Money!

Posted on 24/9/06 by Felix Geisendörfer

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This article is supporting open source (The Cake Software Foundation, see below), so if you have a second to spare, please --> Vote for it on <-- - thank you.

Alright, after some talk in #cakephp today, sealing my first individual ad deal with Walter Hamilton of Visicswire who is one smart cookie to advertise on and discovering this little SEO blog about digg marketing in Alexa's mover's and shakers, I decided to do a little experiment:

The question is this: Is it possible to raise money for Cake Software Foundation by writing a post called "5 Innovative Ways Open Source Can generate Money!", and meanwhile earn some money for yourself?

Well I don't know, but if this post makes it to's homepage, I'll donate 75% of the ad income generated by it to the foundation. So if you've not donated, anything to the best PHP framework so far, go ahead and digg this story! But let's get the promised article going:

#1 - Leverage the community to provide commercial support:
The idea of using paid support to finance the costs of open source development is old and not very effective. The problem is that the developers are already way too busy maintaining the project, and there is no money for paying people to deliver support. However, while talking in #cakephp today, a completly new idea was born. What would happen if you would leverage the real power of open source to deliver the support? The people who are doing the support for free right now anyway? The Community!. All you have to do is to setup a web site where newbies can sign up and pay $5-10 to get a support account with 5-10 credits. Whenever they ask a question it's gonna cost them 1 or more credits to have it answered. The people who answer this questions are simply active members of the community who answer those questions for free and let the money go to the foundation. And using credits instead of single transactions is a practical way to process micropayments via paypal without loosing most of the money on transaction fees! But before I loose myself in the details of this new idea, here comes the next:

#2 - Donation in the moment of Salvation:
Yeah, most open source projects have figured out that putting up donation buttons is probably going to be a good idea. However, most of them put them up on the front page and hope the brute force of visitors seeing them is gonna lead to a good cash flow. While that might starts to work at a certain point, I recommend a different approach. Get people to see those donation links in the moment they feel most satisfied with the project! When people come to the main page, they either want to get the latest version, find the solution to a frustrating problem in the manual or compare the project with others. They are simply not in donation-mood. So the trick is to catch them in the moment of salvation, the moment where they feel happy about using the project the most. Now it doesn't take a genius to figure this out, but the logical consequence is to put a request for donation in each chapter/passage of the manual. When reading the docs of an open source project, nobody is angry about reading a little "If this documentation has helped you, please consider to make a small donation so we can improve this project even further."-text link every once in a while. Far from it! If this passage has just cleared a problem for them, their mouse will be magically drawn to click by their (bad) conscience.

#3 - Create merchandising:
If you read this, chances are you are pretty geeky. And what do we geek's like the most? Ok, I can only speak for myself, but personally I love decent looking geek ware that's impossible for outsiders to decipher. It's a little expensive to ship to Germany, but at some point I'll definitely get myself a nice CakePHP T-shirt and so will others. With cool services like CafePress, almost every open source project can get it's own merchandising collection rolling. All you need is a crafty designer and some smart slogans and you're ready to go!

#4 - Generate some Buzz:
Everything is useless if you are not able to get a decent amount of blogsphere murmur, guerilla marketing, and competitor crushing going on for yourself. That's all this blog post is about, that's all the web 2.0 hype is made out of, and that's a major factor in whether an open source projects succeeds or not. Now for tips on how to do this, I would take a look at this site I discovered today, and in case you've gotten to this page via, their advice is probably fairly decent. What ever you might think about this strategy, it's unarguably one of the key strength Ruby on Rails was able to build upon.

#5 - Have high standards / Provide good Quality:
Ok, every single one of you would have quit reading this article if I would have putten this point at the top. It's not innovative, it's not exciting and yet it's the #1 - no question about it. When you write an open source application, targeting the smartest developers, early adopters and other highly skilled individuals to try it out, there is simply no way to get away with bad quality. In my humble oppinion, Mozilla Firefox would not be used by 70% of my readers if they would have just settled for something slightly better then IE. CakePHP would have not gotten very far if it wasn't for their very well thought out coding standards and strict policy on IP. And this blog wouldn't have gotten the decent readership it has now, if I wouldn't have spent hours on refactoring the code snippets posted on here. [...]. I know it's tempting to get the first volunteers on your dev team as soon as interest starts coming up, but if those people don't happen to be excellent coders, you've just burried the project. Don't think because you provide something for free, people will expect less, quite the contrary is true. In my oppinion people expect far more from open source then they do from closed software. Because now not only the quality of the results is under observations, no, every underlying snippet of code will be object of examination and critic. However, this is also what allows open source to raise the bar in terms of code quality, because hundreds of eyes see more then the ones of a few developers.

Time to go home

Alright, it's time for all of you guys to go back to the social bookmarking service, the community driven news oracle, the news aggregator or whatever scary web 2.0 place you've come out of. The show is over, I've done enough ranting and raving and in case this never makes it to the homepage I've just embaressed myself pretty decently. But oh well, since I was planning to do this anyway, there wasn't much I could loose.

Thanks for stopping by, and come back again on monday to read a buzz-free article about "How to learn from the CakePHP source code" the next time.

--Felix Geisendörfer aka the_undefined


You can skip to the end and add a comment.

Dieter@be  said on Sep 24, 2006:

Actually that's 3 ways to really make money, and 2 ways that aid in the process.
Oh well it was a nice read for a sunday eve anyway ;)

Christian Tietze said on Sep 24, 2006:

Agreed. Wish you and Cake some luck :)
I'd prefer Spreadshirt t-shirts as well since CafePress is rather expensive... Hopefully Cake will continue to grow to get more diggs :)

Felix Geisendörfer said on Sep 24, 2006:

Dieter@be: Yes I thoght the same way after finishing the article, but oh well, I guess that should work as well ; ).

Hypercubed said on Sep 25, 2006:

#1 is difficult. You have to force all the experts to only help those that are giving credits. Experts become recognized as experts by shearing information freely. It is their nature. I think that is the problem with People are supposed to pay for for help but why should they when there is an active community of experts that offer help for free.

Felix Geisendörfer said on Sep 25, 2006:

Hypercubed: Well a lot of the CakePHP experts would probably continue to help people for free, but it is just a way of getting prioritized support for people in a hurry, people uncomfortable with IRC and people who just need to be given a reason to donate. I think it can work pretty nicely if enough people in the commnunity support it.

adam  said on Sep 25, 2006:

interesting article that loses credibility simply because of spelling and grammar mistakes.

feel free to email me if you want a list of a dozen changes that would really polish the content of this article (and make it far more appealing to anal-retentive types like me).

Tim Narvan said on Sep 25, 2006:

Someone should go share this article with the developers over at ( They seem to be just developers and not the best at sharing their vision. Personally I want their dam game to be finished already. (And possibly open-source.) - Maybe if they knew about 'money' for free stuff they would pick up the pase.

[...] read more | digg story [...]

John Zimmerman  said on Sep 25, 2006:

In providing a paid support community you will still have a free support community, that will not go away.

Within a paid support community you can have different people assigned to different parts of the framework to be responsible for "taking care of" any questions related to their part of the framework. If the question has not been answered it is their job to find the answer. If a bug report needs to be filed in trac they can help file it. Making sure bug reports are descriptive, specific and actually bugs will help improve the project as well.

You can also have a sort of rotating shift so that you know someone will be available within in the community at all times to try to help someone with a question.

Within that community more robust documentation and tutorials might also be available in addition to the freely available API and Manual.

I was thinking about a similar structure last week to try to make the documentation and tutorials more robust. The structure I was thinking of would have been more loosely formed using the google group, irc, and the new bakery. But I think a separate paid, community supported service would be a great solution.

I would be very interested in helping to make something like that happen in any way I can.

If you check the comments on the submission to digg, it is a little dissapointing to see all of the people who speak badly about open source projects trying to generate a revenue stream. These projects are extremely vital to many users and most of those users who rely on the CakePHP project I am sure would be glad to help out. Those that don't see value in something like this are likely just looking to open source as "getting something for nothing" and not looking at it as a useful way to develop software.

[...] Over at Felix has written an article for the digg masses with the misleading title “5 Innovative Ways Open Source Can generate Money!”. Misleading, because he doesn’t describe 5 ways, and most ways he describes are not that innovative. [...]

_claes said on Sep 25, 2006:

Our school:

"N3P offers a brand new, contrasting and intrepid two-year college level training in how to become a successful Project Entrepreneur in Open Source. Our students will learn not only the technical possibilities, but also how to exploit new business opportunities, manage profitable ideas, and create flourishing businesses."

"N3P is a privately owned advanced vocational college, financed and accredited by the Swedish Department of Education. The students can apply for loans and grants from the government financing authority N3P is no different than other colleges and universities in Sweden, except for the fact that we are encouraged to be as practical and pragmatic as possible, training our students in tough and realistic situations. Our students will not sit down to construct strategies for others – they will roll up the sleeves and do the task for themselves, thereby putting their own stakes at risk."

Matt  said on Sep 25, 2006:

I used to read this blog regularly, reading this really turns me off. GREED is not what open source is about. Who is to say that information that would be paid for is a good as free information. I personally will leave this community along with others and move somewhere where you are not forced to pay to be a part of the community. Rececntly, I joined a local ruby group. I had been talking to the contact of the group pretty regularly, he had given me some great insights and spent a great deal of time conversating with me. I didn't think too much of it. Two days later I was reading an O'Reily interview and realized that this was the guy who had taken the time to help me out, while he was involved in numerous projects this person that is major influence in a worldwide community spends his time helping someone that happened to have some questions. These things are what makes the community grow, not marketing support to people that are promoting your community by learning the language, code, etc. That one person will tell another and if they like the community then they will support it. What about all the younger people that may try to get involved ? You are saying that they're participation is based on a dollar ammount? When CakePHP framework started before the 1.0 releases would you have paid to talk to members of the community? I hope that this attitude is not the feeling of the whole community. Its a sad day in the history of CakePHP and I hope that this doesn't make it to digg, you should be embarrassed.

[...] You’ve probably all followed my latest post that was purely written to make it to the home, which it did. However, the resulting traffic I got was not as overwelming as I had hoped, and even less then I had my with the first article of mine which made it to’s homepage. The stats are still going up a little bit, but I think it’ll come down to about 3000 visitors, which is pretty low knowing that last time I had 8000 and expected around 15k this time. Maybe I had a bad timing, used a little too much buzz language, or the article wasn’t just that good. But I think it’s fairly safe to say that only the news with the most catchy headlines and descriptions got a chance in the game today. Seems like the web isn’t too different from traditional media in that respect after all. As far as ad revenue goes, the total will probably range between $20-30, and whatever it ends up being, 100% instead of the original 75% of it will go to the foundation. It’s not a lot, but I hope it’ll be appriciated anyway. [...]

Felix Geisendörfer said on Sep 25, 2006:

Matt: I really am shocked to read your comment. You've totally misunderstood me for one thing, but you also have a weird perception of the open source spirit.

You really got to read the comments before posting own ones. In there I tried to clarify that I don't want to replace free support with commercial one. All I suggested was to offer priortized (or higher quality) commercial support powered by the community for people who are in a hurry, uncomfortable with IRC or just need a freaking reason to donate. I don't want to waste my breath getting into the details of how this could work and how not, but this article was only a experiment and shouldn't be regarded as more then that.

But what really is caused my temper to explode when reading your comment was the word "greed". I am pretty certain, the CakePHP developers have not made more then $1 / hour that they spent on this project. Do you call it greedy to push for a little more than that? Do you expect people to walk around and to spent thousands of hours creating free things for you so you can call them greedy as soon as they put up a donation button? I just hope you didn't really think about what you were saying when writing this comment ...

I DO believe that big parts of the open source movement are and should be done by people volunteering for a greater good. But I also think that this should be rewarded with more then a little insider fame and some decent freelancing wages. Let me know if you disagree with that ...

Martin Hohenberg said on Sep 25, 2006:

Personally, I'd pay for a more professional support experience. Currently, Open Source is do-it-yourself and deal with the problems as they arise, or pay RedHat/Novell/Whoever incredible amount of money to "fix" things - as long as you always followed their path. Usually, this simply is too expensive.

The "Community" is helpful the one day, it isn't the other day - whoever had the joy of being flamed to RTFM after asking about a configuration problem that was time-critical knows what I'm speaking about. Basically, I am willing to learn, but there are certain communities where semi-elitist people claim that learning can only be achieved by books, not by exchange of knowledge in IRC, Forums or Mailing Lists. The problem is, as long as I am not paying for an answer, they have every right to do so.

I'd appreciate a system where I could "buy" tokens (via PayPal?) that a member of the community gets when he answers a question I have in a way that actually helps me solving my problem. I'd pay up to 10$ for such a token, depending on the urgency and "relative difficulty". The answergiver could either be a individual giving aid for his own gain (e.g. some college student), or a group of individuals working for donations for their OSS project).

Everyone would be pleased: The Answergiver because he helped and was paid for it, and me, because I got an useful answer without having to handle RTFM-spilling egocentrists.

Maybe I've just posted a business modell for someone of you to pick up? ;)

Matt  said on Sep 25, 2006:

I never called anyone greedy for putting up a donation button. I myself have clicked on that. I did think about what i said,.and I believe that this will make people apprehensive about joining our community. I just thought that getting the word out should be positive. My perception is not off at all. I Think this is poor marketing, alienating the people that are reading about cake on digg, that haven't heard of it, that could bring something to the table.

The idea of open source is for everyone in the community to add, adapt and improve, not to tier the community based on financial contributions. #1 Thats what I have a problem with. I didn't disagree with any other points.

As a clarification, I have not discounted anyone's contributions to this project. I started off reading an article that I thought may be interesting and had to add my $.02. Maybe i got a little carried away. I've been reading here since Jan 26th and this is the first thing that I felt that I needed to comment on.

Felix Geisendörfer said on Sep 26, 2006:

Matt, I am sorry if this post made people get a wrong perception of CakePHP. It was not intendet to promote the framework, nor am I part of the developer team as of right now. All this was was a personal experiment with the aim of sharing eventual results with the foundation.

I think our major difference in point of view is that you don't think open source could harmonize with efforts to make it more financially attractive to the people devoting their time into it. You have a pretty socialist oppinion on the topic which I don't share. I would really like to see ways and strategies arise that would allow independent developers to make money, without having to rely on govermentally issued monopolies on copyright and patents. I am all for open source, but I also think you should be able to connect the spirit of giving things for free, with the notition of the community / users providing financial support for the main contributors to keep the thing going.

Besides this entire thing, I would hate to loose you as a reader and I think even if we disagree on politics here, you might still find one or the other post interesting that I'll publish from now on.

Felix Geisendörfer said on Sep 26, 2006:

Martin Hohenberg: I think it was on slashdot a while ago and it's totally true: If you need support for an OS project and the people keep telling you to RTFM, just go in the channel and be like "{INSERT_OS_PROJECT} sucks because it can't do that (...)". Believe me, before people will start to flame you for saying the project sucks they'll try to proove you wrong first and this includes solving your problem ; ).

As far as priortized support goes, I think the people answering questions should be rated based on the amount of answers and the quality they have to the person that asked. So if somebody wants to use the support-center to ask a question, he can either select to have it answered by any registered user, or pay a certain charge to make sure the answer he get's will be from one of the top 20 supporters. What do you think?

[...] Buzzwords say all the wrong things Blogging challenge blog the opposite of you Making your blog popular Innovative ways can generate money -2006-09-26 12:42:43 - # [...]

[...] ThinkingPHP and beyond » 5 Innovative Ways Open Source Can generate Money! (tags: opensource business money web2.0 php management support linux blog Marketing oss tips web) [...]

[...] 5 Innovative Ways Open Source Can generate Money! [...]

John Zimmerman  said on Sep 27, 2006:

No one is saying that the existing community will go away if a paid support community were to be established. That will still exist. For free. For everyone to access.

You can look at this just like a Linux distro. Red Hat, SuSe, Ubuntu, etc all offer paid support options. You can still use their products for free and even get support for free. Paid support is something above and beyond.

The difference with CakePHP is that: 1) it is not a linux distro; 2) The paid support option would be "community supported", by volunteers also looking to give back to the project. So you have people donating time, and people donating money.

If executed properly something like this can only help the project grow and provide __some__ money to help fund the developer's efforts.

What will hurt something like this is essentially people spreading FUD over paying for something related to open source.

The developer's frequently hang out on the Google Group and in the IRC channel and I don't think that will change. They take the time to help out regular users as well. There are some users however that need extra attention and indepth help who would be willing to pay for good solid help.

Solid support is one thing that is clearly absent from many open source projects. RTFM (even if that is what should happen) is a huge barrier for those looking to adopt use of a project or who are unfamilliar with the more advanced features of the technology.

Not to point fingers (directly) at any other free open source support resources, but there is one mailing list that I subscribe to that I can't even read anymore. New users get flamed by more experienced users, most users flame the project and the corporation backing the project (that should be a hint) and you get people who waste their time being "netiquitte nazi's" that no one receives good support.

If you don't want paid support, don't pay for it. But don't spread FUD. Paid support could help a lot of users and benefit the project in the process.

[...] ThinkingPHP and beyond 5 Innovative Ways Open Source Can generate Money! [...]

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