The AJ Market

Where to begin?

One of the things that’s most struck me about Ubuntu is how far it’s progressed with little more than Debian as a base, some reasonable cash to cover a professional level of work, and some dedication to promoting itself and community building.

As an experiment, in July, August and September I tried doing something similar with debbugs — ie, actually committing myself to spend some real time on it as a professional (which I guess ended up being a day or two a week on average, but was still fairly irregular unfortunately), and promoting it both by giving a talk about it at debconf, and involving more people in its development and trying to get some of the feature requests that’d been hanging around finished with so we could move on to new stuff.

I think that’s actually had pretty impressive results — there’s a lot more interest, some fairly serious improvements in both its look an functionality, and for a project that’s been essentially moribund for half a decade, it’s even gained a little momentum. If I hadn’t already been amazed by how well Ubuntu’s done with relatively little effort, I’d’ve been utterly shocked, and heck, maybe I am even so.

Of course, the problem with this is that it really does rely on some real, professional-level commitment; it’s hard to be enthusiastic and active if you’ve just had a stressful day doing paying work, and it’s hard to be responsive if your Debian time doesn’t have any set schedule, and ends up competing against other hobbies, like sleep. But on the other hand, dedicating 40% of your potential income to free software isn’t really something that’s that easy to justify on an ongoing basis, unless perhaps you’re already ridiculously wealthy, or comfortably retired. Even Richard Stallman has a couple of awards worth a few hundred thousand each, to justify his time spent.

Adding this and my relatively recent fascination with market dynamics, I’ve been pondering over the last few weeks whether it’s not worth taking my longstanding amenability to bribes a little more seriously, and trying to construct a real justification for treating Debian work as a professional venture rather than an entertaining hobby that lets me see the world, both virtually, and occassionally for real.

Hence, the AJ market.

The idea is I dedicate some real time to work on free software, and you contribute money to tell me what’s worth working on.

I think it makes sense from both a “free software” point of view, and an “economics” point of view. On the free software side, it avoids getting entangled with proprietary software, promotes development, and provides an easy way to ensures my “users” are actually my priority without giving up my judgement on what’s actually a sensible way of doing things. On the economics side of things, for the time being at least the supply side’s okay, since at worst, I’m willing to throw away some time to see how this works out, and on the demand side, there seem to be enough people who think I should be doing more work on one area or another, that some of them might think that’s worth more than just talking about it. In theory, one or two hundred folks liked what I do for Debian enough to vote for me as DPL, I guess it’ll be interesting to see if that translates to cash rewards. :)

Anyway, that’s the theory. There’re a reasonable number of links from the market page to explanatory stuff, but if that’s too complicated I guess the simple summary is something like this: work on debbugs makes fixing bugs in Debian easier; work on dak makes organising Debian easier; work on britney makes releasing Debian easier; work on debootstrap makes installing Debian easier; work on ifupdown makes networking Debian machines easier.

I’ve also added a little chart on my blog, for those of you who don’t get this via RSS. No more Google ads or paypal buttons.

Leave a Reply