Change of heart: Inkscape starts encouraging paid development

Change of heart: Inkscape starts encouraging paid development

After years of being dead against paid development, Inkscape Board revisited the controversial topic and came up with a policy that encourages personal (crowd)funded projects to add new features and fix bugs in this popular free/libre vector graphics editor.

Why just now?

The problem that the Board used to have with paid development was the assumed inequality of contributors in financial terms and, therefore, possible disturbance in the community — despite hard evidence to the contrary from projects like Blender.

Also, despite the fact that every GSoC project mentored by the organization since 2005 was a case of paid development.

Moreover, despite successful community-funded work on the Text tool by Tavmjong Bah in 2010.

The latter example is, however, debatable. Originally a completely different Inkscape contributor with a good track record was supposed to work on this project, but he stepped down. Even more, the first attempt at collecting mere $1300 to do the job simply failed, and it took a considerable amount of efforts to get the project funded.

If you think of how much was actually done, and how much time Tav put into this, you might arrive at the conclusion that the cost of the project was rather undervalued. But it did demonstrate that community-funded development of Inkscape could be done.

What are the rules?

In a way, the newly published Inkscape Funded Development Model follows the core idea of that first fundraiser. A quick summary would look like this.

In a nutshell, if you have a decent track record in the project, and someone (community, enterprise, government, alien invaders) is willing to fund your work, you are welcome to get cracking, provided you reach mutual agreement with the Inkscape Board that a) the project idea makes sense, b) you really appear to have the expertise to work on it. You should also be prepared for your performance to be reviewed.

The full document is far more verbose, we suggest you have a go at it. So far there have been no submissions, but the announcement was made only few days ago.

Will other projects "wake up" and follow Inkscape?

If you've patiently read this far instead of scrolling down to the comments section to write something along the lines of "But despicable {project} developers don't get that!", thank you.

Here's one important thing that needs to be pointed out. Crowdfunding is frequently seen as a kind of silver bullet for free/libre software projects, and projects that don't actively embrace this revenue model are increasingly often pictured as backwards-thinking, doomed to fail etc.

While the bit about doom is certainly debatable, the bit about backward thinking only displays communication breakdown between users and developers on levels such as human resources, motivation etc.

For instance, it would be quite impossible for Synfig to get anywhere with their monthly funding goals if it wasn't for Konstantin Dmitriev's decision to take over the organizational role and get a full-time developer involved.

During an interview in early 2013, Konstantin confessed the project simply wasn't structured at the time in a way that would make crowdfunding a sensible idea. Several months later he fixed that at the (ongoing) cost of his personal unpaid time.

Somewhat similarly, it's quite impossible for the existing GIMP team to go for paid development in its current state, because most active contributors already have jobs, and the little time they have is spread thinly between work, family, and writing the code for the project.

Coincidentally, GIMP developers are actually fond of personal fundraisers. They even directly promoted two such projects: new advanced resamplers in GEGL (half the money collected, half the job done) and mirrored painting (nearly funded, some preliminary work done). Whether they will embrace this in an official way, like Inkscape, is an open question: someone credible needs to step up and volunteer to do organizational work to fill the void.

TL;DR

Paid development in free/libre software projects is a complicated topic. Making this actually work involves far more than setting up a campaign at a crowdfunding platform and banging the drums to draw attention. And "opening the mind to the possibilities" seems to be second (more likely, tenth) to actually having human resources to allocate for organizing it all.

The Inkscape project is lucky to be in a position where all this could actually work. If you are interested in improving this vector graphics editor for a certain compensation, get involved and gain credibility.

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18 Comments

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  1. I would rather pay someone to work on software that I get to keep (source code included) than pay someone to work on software that I only get to perpetually license. This is why the Adobe Creative Cloud controversy makes me laugh; people are up in arms at having to pay a subscription, when really that’s exactly what they have alwayso been doing but in one lump sum.

    So yes, take my money, developers! I will gladly pay you for your work. You deserve it! frankly you deserve it far more than moste kickstarter scams out there. Set up a pay system and I will donate; set up a bounty and I will contribute. Free Software devs deserve to make money too!

  2. Being involved in an open source project which has some experience with paid work/fundraising (0 A.D.) I can definitely agree that it’s not a silver bullet.

    And that the work related to the process around the money (fundraising, planning, etc) also has to be considered. A word from experience: Be very careful about using Flexible Funding. Especially if you’re running a campaign with (especially physical) perks that needs to be taken care. Because in that case you might end up without enough money to be able to pay people long enough for them to be willing/able to do the work, but with a fair amount of work making sure people get their perks. The project will still have some money, so it’s not completely useless, but sometimes it’s harder to get people to work for money than for free…

    The approach that Inkscape seems to be taking definitely seems to be the correct one though. It’s a lot more likely to succeed when you have small (relatively speaking at least), definable goals. It can of course still be a gamble. The programmer in question might be skilled, but he/she still needs to be able to complete the task in the time given, and in such a way that it’s useful to the project. Otherwise you might end up in a situation where you have a fair amount of code that’s done, but barely anything that’s useful.

  3. Inkscape is my favorite open-source tool, it’s a pleasure to use despite some performances shortcomings. I’m glad they are exploring new ways to keep this great software alive.

    “communication breakdown between users and developers on levels such as human resources, motivation etc.”
    You nailed it. It’s interesting to see the differences between some popular Open Source projects. If you look at Blender, it’s easy to know who are leading the project, who is involved, where they are and where they are going. Quite the same about Pitivi, easy to see who are in the dev team. I use Gimp since the late 90’s and I couldn’t name a single developer. Although I didn’t made any research about them, they are quite discreet. 
    But after all it’s their project, if they feel comfortable that way, nobody else should tell them how to operate. However, user frustration about a slow moving project is understandable. And those users usually can’t do more than spreading the word and offering money.

    Thank you for this great article Alexandre.

  4. I always feel like inkscape gimp and scribus should join forces to team up a LibreGraphicPublishing tool or something like that.

    It would be more than awesome if those three software can join forces and collaborate more in the future. Just like Adobe Creative Suite is a big success, the key behind it must be the limitless resourse you can get from all the software in the suite.

    The other benefit of this might be a more focused and structured workflow during these three entity. If you can just become big, just team up to form something big, so you can play bigger games, and grow faster with all the intrest people might want to invest in it.

  5. FOSS devs used to have a saying “if you want it done grab the source and DIY” now it will be “if you want it done, pay for it” and since these are donations rather than hiring money still do not warrant that a project goes in the direction that the community wants, only exception so far is Synfig because they are truly organized and open to the community, GIMP devs have been stuck in that meaningless GEGL thing i don’t think anyone above the average user cares about

  6. I have been an enthusiastic supporter of FOSS fundraisers for some years.

    Now I’m also interested in how FOSS projects can improve their organization so that the onboarding of new volunteer contributors is as smooth as possible. Now that VALS Semester of Code (Inkscape is in it btw.) appeared on the scene, there are well-structured mentoring opportunities all year round. In addition to the *SoCs and Code-ins, there are, of course, young and hungry developers constantly looking for welcoming projects on their own.

    I encourage all FOSS projects to study what OpenHatch is doing. They have a lot of experience and documentation on bringing new contributors to FOSS.

  7. @Roman

    GIMP devs have been stuck in that meaningless GEGL thing i don’t think anyone above the average user cares about

    That is a rather unusual point of view, since GEGL is all about flexibility and features appreciated by professionals.

  8. Hello, everyone!
    Nice move, Inkscape guys!

    I have a question: is there any alternative to Mischief?

    Mischief, I believe, is the first vector painting software.

    “Infinite Definition. Infinite Canvas. Infinite Possibilities.
    Sketching, Drawing, and Painting Software for the Mac and PC”

    I’d like to have something like that in linux.


    What do you think?

  9. Nice article Alexandre.

    I’m pointing people to it when they suggest GIMP uses Kickstarter as it explains why crowdfunding isn’t that simple.

  10. Alexandre Prokoudine 14 October 2014 at 11:48 pm

    @Braznyc

    Do you mean the new Serif’s Mac-only editor? I do believe you want Gravit which we recently covered here on LGW :)

    @Kevin

    You know, I’ve been struggling to explain exactly that to GIMP users for quite a while, but never really succeeded. Maybe this time it will work.

  11. @Alexandre

    It’s a software called Mischief.


    Their website:

    http://www.madewithmischief.com/

     

  12. @Braznyc

    Ah, I confused it with something else. Well, it’s not the first vector-based painting software. Creature House Expression predated it by over 10 years. And no, I don’t think free apps do that now, although MyPaint does store all strokes inside OpenRaster files.

  13. yes, a great new move by the Inkscape people… This is definitely a project to be kept alive and the only true alternative to Corel and Adobe.. give those guys a run for their money and show them the level of innovation achievable by the free software community.

  14. Inkscape is one of the very few open source applications that I actually enjoy using. I’m glad they took this approach and I hope they continue to receive a lot of support.

  15. @Alexandre:

    Actually Mypaint just stores the mask of where a particular brush has been applied.
    This isn’t enough to actually reconstruct a stroke, only to allow you to ‘pick up’ the brush parameters used in that area.

    Very recently (past few days), Andrew Chadwick implemented an Inking tool in MyPaint, which is a little closer to the idea of ‘painting .. with vectors’, but this is only a painting tool, it still doesn’t store any stroke data permanently in the document.

  16. Alexandre Prokoudine 02 March 2015 at 8:00 pm

    @David, yes, thanks for the correction! :)

    I briefly tested the inking tool over the last weekend, it wasn’t very stable, but it did look promising.

    Still interested, if InkML would ever be used.

  17. Great initiative by Inkscape..like Brazync asked even i would want to know if there is any alternative for Mischeif

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