If you want to fund open source code via Patreon with GitHub, well now you can

Exploited open source maintainers get broader payment pleading options

GitHub today said it has linked its open source software donation program Sponsors to the funding platform Patreon in an attempt to get unappreciated developers patronized for the work they do.

"We understand there are challenges with being an open source developer and that finding funding is one of those challenges," Stormy Peters, VP of communities at Microsoft-owned GitHub, said in an announcement. "We want to help by providing different avenues for projects to receive funding."

Most open source developers do not receive funding; they contribute code to projects for various reasons and commercial businesses gladly capture the value of people's donated time and talent without paying anything. Sound a bit like social media for software, but so it goes.

According to open source software biz Tidelift, 60 percent of more than 300 open source maintainers surveyed describe themselves as "unpaid hobbyists," while only 13 percent describe themselves as professional maintainers who make most of their money from tending such projects.

And yet open source code underpins the world economy. Inequity and exploitation in the open source world has been an issue for decades but has become a particular concern in the cloud era, where the owners of infrastructure have been able to build businesses out of open source code, often outcompeting commercial efforts by project maintainers themselves.

In 2016, the Ford Foundation called attention to the underfunded foundation of modern software in its report [PDF], "Roads and Bridges: The Unseen Labor Behind Our Digital Infrastructure." And since then, there's been more effort to throw a few bones to the people doing unpaid work on widely used projects.

GitHub Sponsors surfaced for beta testing in 2019 and was made available to companies the following year. At the time, Shanku Niyogi, who was then SVP of product at GitHub, said the Sponsors program had been welcomed by developers, some of whom made "a six-figure income." We noted at the time that he declined to say how many developers were making a living wage from donations or to cite a median income figure.

The Register again put that question to a GitHub spokesperson and we received no response.

Since April 2023, when organization-funded Sponsorships reached general availability, participation has increased 20 percent and now stands at about 4,200 companies, according to GitHub.

That's a small portion of the number of companies that use open source software – 9 out of 10, by GitHub's calculations, which would be about 300 million of the roughly 334 companies estimated to exist in the world. In other words, there's still a lot of freeloading going on.

Patreon's mission, to hear Peters tell it, "is to fund the creative class."

It's worth noting that members of the creative class – in the form of software developers and book authors – are suing GitHub and its parent Microsoft for using their work to train commercial AI models without license or compensation.

"We’re excited to offer Patreon creators and fans GitHub benefits through this new integration," said Utkarsh Srivastava, SVP of engineering at Patreon, in a statement. "We're committed to providing creators with more ways to build lasting businesses, and this partnership will further enable developers to pursue open source careers and broaden their communities."

Less 8 percent or 12 percent: That's how much Patreon charges content creators to collect funds via its Pro and Premium tiers. At least that's a significantly better deal than Meta Subscriptions, through which Facebook and Instagram creators can get paid, minus 30 percent for Meta. Apple and Google also exact their tax too - rates vary depending on expediency.

GitHub Sponsors only charges up to 6 percent, and that only for sponsorships from organization accounts. Sponsorships from personal accounts are not subject to a fee.

The Sponsors-Patreon tie-up lets sponsors link their GitHub and Patreon accounts to handle sponsorships on the gifting site while receiving sponsorship recognition through their GitHub profile. Begging by button was never easier.

Another noteworthy aspect of the arrangement is the geographical expansion: Sponsors has added 35 new regions where it's available, bringing the total number of supported regions to 103.

The new ones include: Albania, Antigua & Barbuda, Armenia, Bahrain, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Cambodia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Jordan, Kuwait, Macao SAR China, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Namibia, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Oman, Panama, Qatar, Rwanda, Senegal, Sri Lanka, St. Lucia, Tanzania, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

For open source contributors and maintainers in these countries, where the cost of living is often lower than in the US, Europe, or the UK, trickle down economics may work a bit better. ®

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