Free and conscious help
I recently stumbled upon a reddit thread talking about how “bad” it is supposed to be that Pest PHP, an upcoming testing framework based on PHPUnit, is funded by people but claimed to be open-source.
The goal of this funding seems to be that Nuno makes his package available only to people that fund him, but when funding reaches a top goal, it will be open-source for everyone. Correct me if I am wrong (please).
I sincerely do not really know what to say about this (well, I actually do, hence this post). After all, if Nuno Maduro (which I met once and he’s a really nice person), the author of Pest PHP, wants to fund his project so it can pay his bills and at the same time allow a new project to become open-source one day, let’s do it, I will not mind nor rant about this.
However, maybe you have read the title of this post before actually reading it (else, tell me, I definitely like weirdos like me), it makes me think about something that I try my best to have in my life but which is really hard to achieve.
But first, some context.
(sorry, that will be a lot of context…)
My journey through “pricing”
You might have noticed with my tweets and posts that I am not really far from being politically left, if not SJW. Judge by yourself.
This is a way of life that I have been on for years now, if not decades (time flies…).
A couple of years back, during my search for better ways of living our lives, I met some really neat people that were artists living in communities in the countryside. Meeting them has changed my life a lot.
They live in yurts, tiny houses, or very modern small houses, really close to nature, with permaculture, lots of humanism, home-schooled kids crawling around and risen by every available people in the community and not only their parents, etc.
This is very similar to the Twin Oaks community in the USA, but less than two hours from my home in France.
There, they helped me learn more about group communication (and as a person with autism, I definitely need some training on this subject), but also flat hierarchy (no chief, only common decisions), share, and economical “ungrowth”.
But let us get back on rails: they also helped me learn about a new concept.
The concept of “free and conscious price”.
Keep reading, we will come back to tech after a while.
What an interesting word, isn’t it?
Have you ever wondered what “price” you can put on things?
I mean, in France, the price of a baguette bread 🥖 is less than 1 euro at the time I write this post.
Do you really think this is worth it?
A car also has a price.
Taking a train ticket has a price.
(well, sort of)
I always thought that the concept of price was really important to “give things value”. Bread has a value because it’s food, and food is necessary.
But I started to find this concept of “price” absurd at some time.
The price is absurd
The best example I have about this absurdity is in 2008.
I was working at a call-center, not yet in computer programming, and to get to the office, I had to take a bike, ride a few miles, take a train for 30 minutes, then ride again a few more miles. At this time, I had a car, but it was way cheaper to ride my bike because a monthly subscription for the train was way cheaper than putting gas in the car.
Then, in late 2008, the top of the petrol crisis came to France, and there were complaints and stuff, but mostly, strikes because of the high price of gas.
Trains were unscheduled, so I couldn’t take a train to go to work.
Fine, I would take my small car, it would take more time than train, I would be stuck in traffic because everyone had to take the car because of the strikes, etc.
At some point, I had to fill my tank with gas.
But it was not possible. Shortage. Because everyone was so crazy and paranoid that they took way more gas than usual (people were filling multiple petrol cans to bring home, even thought it was forbidden during the shortage), they caused the shortage.
So, I could not go to work anymore, I was fired because of that, and I saw the rise of the prices in gas stations.
I was horrified.
During the year, the prices rose so high that it caused a global crisis.
Do you remember why the price of petrol grew so high?
Because “people” (and industries) needed more of it.
The concept of price here is determined by how much people want of it. The more people want, the higher the price.
Economists call this common supply and demand.
I personally call this absurdity.
Supply and demand is absurd to me because the way you build your product can be the exact same, it is just that you will ask more money for it because more people want it, but most of the time, in our world, it does not cost more to make, it is just an opportunity to be certain to sell and make more money (and more dividends for shareholders).
The thing about all this is that the concept of “price” is always subjective.
Some tribes will find it totally useless to have a diamond ring.
Jet set rich people will find it really important to spend millions in a collection of sports cars.
The price of something depends only on how much the society you live in evaluates it.
This representation is the precise reason why we laugh at Wall-E when he throws away the wedding ring and keeps the ring box.
Because we think that Wall-E is stupid to throw something that has “so much value” and keep an “undervalued” item.
Think about it.
If we fixed the value of things, the entire society you live in would totally change, including the price of a house, the salary you earn each month, or even the price of my beloved baguette.
Free and conscious price is a real counter argument to this capitalist view of the concept of “price”.
Let’s explain a bit.
Why change society’s representation of pricing?
Well, there are many reasons to do so.
I will take an example to illustrate this change.
Ikea is probably the most known company to sell furnitures.
But do you even remember how we did buy furnitures before the 20th century?
I’ll tell you: we had to hire artisans.
Before industries came out, artisans were the only way to buy furnitures.
If you could not afford to buy, you had to build.
Today, the famous “Lack” squared table from Ikea costs approximately 10 €.
Hiring an artisan to build a similar table, whatever the material, will definitely cost at least 10 times more.
One single reason for this difference:
Ikea automatized the process of creating the table through industry, therefore making a lot of profit because one person can build hundreds of tables pieces by using really performant machines.
Seems obvious, isn’t it?
But now, see the impact: nowadays, we set the value of a small low squared table to 10 €, whereas it was valued more than ten times this price in the past.
What capitalism taught us too is that since it is “cheaper”, it is “less valued”, therefore breaking it or losing it is “not so bad”, compared to breaking a table that is “worth” ten times the price.
Before massive industries were the norm, we had to value our goods, we had to value items because they had a high price and the artisan put time and energy (and maybe passion) into it, so we accredited a lot of value on it.
Now, we give less, if not “no”, value to the same kind of item, because industry came here.
Enough about furniture.
I hope you got the point here.
If everyone kept their goods and gave them as much “value” as what we gave before massive industry, we would not need to buy a new “Lack” table every once in a while, because we would take more care of it, we would repair it once broken, we would give it to our kids when they get their first student’s appartment, and they would also take care of it, etc., I bet you understood.
I would like us to see the value of things differently.
The community that I met earlier taught me that if you change the perception of the “value” of something, you change its price.
Now, what about pricing in tech?
In tech, there’s a big dichotomy when we talk about open-source and tech billing.
Open-source is supposed to be free (most of the time), but we have a job and this job needs a salary.
Luckily, we IT engineers have really nice salaries, so we have high expectations when looking for new contracts or new employers.
But on the other side, we provide open-source tools for free.
I would like to talk more about the rant that happened on Reddit against Pest PHP.
On a particular comment:
You want me to give you $14 each month to receive access to a few libraries you made?
This person seem to think that funding a free and open-source tool for $14 per month is not worth it.
Okay, let’s talk about numbers now.
I do not know how much Nuno is paid by his current employer right now, but I guess a nice amount, considering his skills and the type of company.
I will take an arbitrary value, just to imagine.
If he was paid $3000 per month, this would result into $18 per hour (approximately, of course).
So, the person who rants here is saying that he (yes, I consider “he” because his nickname is “_codeguy”) would not consider that Nuno is worth $14 per month, even though he is worth $18 per hour?
This is the best example of an economical representation bias.
“_codeguy” thinks that even though Nuno works for a private company and develops private tools at a “high value”, the work he does to make it free for everyone has “low value”, but when I say “low”, I say “very very low”, because Nuno spends tons of hours for his project, he invests a lot of time, and the only thing he asks for is that people “thank” him somehow by allowing him to pay his bills while working for the community, if not “the world”.
Even though I disagree with the plan (I still think everything should be free and open-source, not “paid to be open-source”), I totally understand and support Nuno on his project, because I know he invests passion in it and his goal is to help our community.
Making stuff for people is the essence of this concept of “free and conscious price”.
Nuno’s proposal starts at $5 but you can give whatever you want “starting this point”.
This is what I learnt in the community I talked about earlier.
If I want something, I know there will be a “fixed base price”, usually very very low, but I can give whatever amount I want above this.
With this concept, these permaculture fans I befriended with organized a small festival and I was really happy to pay a lot for plain orange juice for me and my kids, even though I know it would have cost me way less if it was in a restaurant or a bar, because I knew these folks were great, they built awesome things, they were nice, and their festival was really good and secured for kids, and lots of other stuff.
Even though this orange juice I could have paid nothing, because they were offering it to the community with a “free and conscious price”.
We had to determine the value of things by ourselves depending on our experience with what we paid for, instead of relying on a higher class (society, the economy…) to determine the value for us.
And that’s great.
(Please, this post is too long, please conclude!)
On reddit, “_codeguy” says that he thinks “open-source is going to die” in some way because people ask for funding for their free and open-source project.
I think not.
On the contrary, I think this is just the beginning, because maintainers are telling people that the free work they’ve been giving to the world for the past fifty years is worth a value, and that this value has to be fair.
“Free and conscious price” is the way to go, because it will allow people to determine the value of some project by themselves, based on their real experience of it, instead of relying on some “supply and demand” absurd thing.
In tech, supply and demand cannot happen (and should not happen) because we deliver digital products that can be replicated at will. The only limit is hardware, and developers usually do not sell hardware, they sell their brain time.
This brain time currently has a lot of value, but when it is open-sourced, companies find it very low valued (else, they would inject millions in funding open-source projects, but they do not).
The ideal dream of open-source maintainers is to be paid to work on open-source projects.
I am pretty sure that they would even accept to be paid less than what they are paid today if it was to work only on open-source projects with as much freedom as what they already have today on their project.
Open-source maintainers help us devs daily. Without them, our industry would collapse.
So let’s pay them with free and conscious prices, for the free and conscious help they give to us.
We should value open-source for its worth.
We should value the artisans that build our furniture.