One of Palant's original reasons for building Adblock Plus was to nudge people away from Internet Explorer to Firefox, noting that "the more people [that] use a modern browser, the better."
But his work has become much more driven by a desire to see an uncluttered, fast and open web.
Both developers have seen times when they lacked motivation or the time necessary to actively code the project. During those times, either others stepped in to fill the void or, in the case of Adblock Plus, the project simply went into maintenance mode for a time.
Contrast this with more actively sponsored projects like Linux. More than 70 per cent of Linux development is paid for by companies like Red Hat, Intel, IBM and others. Linux is so central to so many companies that there's little risk of a Kempf or Palant losing interest and moving on: there is no shortage of cash to fund an alternative developer (though this doesn't account for the loss in productivity that would happen if, say, a Linus Torvalds bailed out of the project).
I'm willing to bet that many developers on these big, sponsored projects like Linux would continue to contribute even if they weren't paid to do so. They, like Kempf and Palant, undoubtedly enjoy the work and feel that they're making a difference. The salary is just a bonus.
But actually it's much more than that. As seen in research done on GNOME contributions, paid developers tend to develop and maintain more critical parts of an open-source project. Why? Because they can afford to; they're full-time on the project, and tend to build up the credibility necessary for commit access. They also know their way around the code better, having spent more time on it, which enables them to contribute more effectively.
The trick for would-be investors in such projects, then, is to find ways to marry developer interests with investor interests. This is non-trivial, but projects like Linux (and now Adblock Plus) suggest that it can be done. Early-stage investor Bryce Roberts suggests that entrepreneurs should "find a revenue model that goes with the grain of your business," and the same is true for developers.
Money isn't evil. It can be quite good, particularly in open source, as it helps to fund serious, significant code. But any business model for VLC, for example, needs to embrace its essence, and not degrade the user (and developer) experience by overloading it with crapware.
As developers discover revenue models that more enhance the value of their applications, rather than detract from it, we'll likely see more community driven open-source projects like VLC embrace outside funding without losing their souls in the process. All of which means more great code, and happier developers.
How about you? Why do you contribute to open-source projects? And how do you contribute?
Matt Asay is senior vice president of business development at Strobe, a startup that offers an open source framework for building mobile apps. He was formerly chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfreso's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open-source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears twice a week on The Register.
Both great apps
VLC just plays anything, no codecs, no dramas.
I use AdBlock Plus everywhere, so much that when I use a browser without it I am at first shocked at all the flashing clutter I see. Shocked, then offended then reaching for FF and AB+.
The collaborative motive
I think all of this was best summed up by the 'Stone Soup' fable that used to be part of the documentation for Fractint. People achieve more together than apart.
Now it has been some years since I released code under the GPL but my motive whenever I did was to (unknowingly) get more value out of the work I'd put in. I had spent a couple of days solving a problem that I knew other people would need to solve as well. Why should they waste their time when a solution existed? And, of course, I got the chance to pay back something for all the GPL code I was using.
Look at Wikipedia. For all the lies, self-agrandisment, turf wars, and us tv series it is infected with, the core content is fantastically useful, and has been contributed to make the world a better place. I love where I live, and want to share that pleasure with other folk, so I freely give my photos to Geograph. No individual photo is worth anything to me, I still have it to look at. But together everyone's pictures becomes a special thing.
It seems to me that this is a very old idea. Mathematicians have usually been sponsored in one way or another, but their researches have been given away freely to benefit us all. The output did not become the private property of anyone.
In the 20th century people started keeping algorithms secret, proprietory. In the 21st century the trend continues. The world is a worse place fr it.
The only reason I can think of
why anyone would want to "sponsor" something like AdBlock is so they can organise for their own ads not to be blocked, or for them to be inserted elsewhere in the browser. There's simply no other way you could monetise AdBlock's audience. For any sponsor to make money, AdBlock's universality has to be compromised.
Cue the entrance of a plethora of commercially sponsored AdBlocks, each one of which blocks everybody else's adverts except their own.