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Patronage and Self-Patronage

I hope you did not feel too bad about my previous post to this journal, which was of somewhat political nature. So here's a more technical-philosophical post which is in essence an essay.

Continuing with the thread in Perl-IL that I started, about the shortage of P-Languages (and FOSS in general) programmers in Israel, and the fact that employers have become more picky in hiring them, and my "Thoughts about Whether to Become Independent" threads in Perl-IL and in Hackers-IL, I'd like to go one step further. (Read the entire threads - they contain many important insights).

During the Renaissance (and possibly previously in the middle ages or before) it was customary for nobles and royals to become patrons of artists and scholars - sponsor their food and housing and in exchange become better known for the creations of these creative people. Now here I propose that now, well into the information age, such a paradigm may resurface, or already resurfaced in a way.

What I'm talking about is giving patronage to open source hackers: programmers, essayists/article writers/bloggers, artists, translators, QA people - all falling under the umbrella of people who hack. This patronage can be given by "rich people": companies, wealthy entrepreneurs, a collective donation of sponsorship, or other sources like that. In turn, the developer can do what he normally does, while possibly crediting his benefactors. (Depending on the terms of benefactors).

Now let's take me as an example. Being a 21st-century Homo sapiens, I require some basic things such as food, housing, clothing, electricity and good hardware, software and Internet resources. Without these things I won't be able to produce anything of value. Now, what I like to do the most, and what I feel like I'm the best at is hacking on various digital creations on my free time. You can find the stuff I wrote on my homesite. The license for most of it is very liberal, usually even Public Domain, BSD-style or CC-Attribution (CC-by).

Now, before I continue let me just say that I'm very happy with my workplace. The conditions there are excellent, the people are very nice, and I'd recommend every Israeli tech-worker who's looking for a job to consider working for them. However, lately I've been feeling that doing my day job's work is a waste of time, as strange as it sounds. I feel that I'm much more productive, helpful and as a result satisfied hacking on voluntary stuff.

Obviously, I still have to eat and stuff. Which is where Patronage kicks in. Why can't I get someone or some people to support me so I can continue to do what I like most of the time?

Having a patronage does not mean I'm going to stop trying to earn some money on my own. On my home site I have a page with several ways I can make money. Before I got a job, I made a substantial amount of money off gigs, like writing articles for online publications, proof-reading documents and books, or writing code. Now I also have several ideas for several projects that are both open source but also have a commercial potential, which I cannot work on.

If I get a patronage, I can still do these things, and possibly have a share of the money I receive for such things be payed back to my patron (or donated to a charity approved by him). This brings me to Self-Patronage where such gigs make me entirely self-supportive.

I'm not going to quit my job just yet, albeit I've certainly been happier without a job, and with a full time dedicated to hacktivity. I wonder who will want to hire me to do the random stuff I normally do. I tend to have the attention span of a child, and also work on several articles and essays simultaneously. I have many projects that I started and are in a usable state, and which I multiplex between them, and do bits of each every time.

I've already set up a donation page, but I'm not sure PayPal donations can be directly translated into Israeli currency. Most of what I have in my account now is for commissions, but it's a start. I also placed some Google ads on my site, but I have yet to reach the 100 dollars mark.

I do not claim to be the inventor of Patronage and Self-Patronage. It is well known that some developers collected donations to sponsor them for a year or even more. And increasingly we've seen many professional bloggers or self-employed open source developers. But it is something that any creative person should consider.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 27th, 2006 07:12 am (UTC)
But shlomif, why would anyone want to do this for you?
lots of rich people support Freecell Solver?
Jul. 27th, 2006 02:38 pm (UTC)
Re: Patronage

Hi Mr. Anonymous! Next time, please either login or identify yourself.

First of all let me say that I'm glad that I wasn't the one who invoked mulix' corollary to Godwyn's Law this time. (or my own corollary to mulix').


But shlomif, why would anyone want to do this for you?

First of all this post wasn't really just about me. It was about patronage in general, with me taken as a specific case. As for "why" - because I'm productive and creative, and create many things of value, including essays, presentations, free and open source software, and humorous bits and pieces. If someone sponsors me then I'll have more time to do such things, rather than work on a 9-to-5 (or worse) job on some code I don't really care for personally.

I often receive emails from people who stumbled upon my site or were referred to it, or listen to what they say on the IRC after they were referred to my site, and generally they are very appreciative of what can be found there. I received quite a few "Thank You" or "Your essay/software/web-site etc. is wonderful." notes.

Like I said during the Renaissance, some rich people became patrons of artists and scholars because it costed them very little to support these creative men, yet gave them a lot of good reputation. This is still true now.

lots of rich people support Freecell Solver?

You're implying that Freecell Solver is the only useful creation I've written of significance. That's hardly the case, anymore. I agree it was my first solo project that became significant, and that I learned a lot about both software engineering and software management from it. However, I have worked on many other things as well (see the links above).

Some of what I do is of interest to people, companies or organisations with deep pockets. Or like I said, I can eventually have a self-patronage or a collective patronage.

I should note that I stopped working on Freecell Solver due to lack of interest. There are still many things to do, but it should just work well on most system and is mostly bug-free. If someone wishes to continue working on it, I'll be glad to assist him.

Jul. 27th, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC)
Re: Patronage
Sadly, I have to agree with the other Mr. Anonymous, and (mostly) not because of anything specifically related to you personally.
The historic practice of patronage was rarely altruistic in nature, but rather to allow the patron one or more of several potential benefits:

  1. A degree of control over the recipient
  2. Privileged access to or ownership of the fruits of the recipient's work
  3. Prestige derived either from the prestige of the recipient or from one of the above points

It can hardly be said that this practice has disappeared, it certainly remains with very minor changes in one of the following incarnations:

  1. Academia - where researchers are kept by governments and donors so that they can keep researching (often gaining the same benefits)
  2. Grants, donations and awards - which is pretty much a short term version of the same thing
  3. Commissioning of works - again more of the same with a higher level of control
  4. Purchasing or licensing of works - more or less more of the same
  5. Private research institutes (IBM is famous for that), think tanks and the like - a private version of the academia

Indeed, as you said, you were a recipient of at least two of the above. However, my point is that usually, these are usually associated with fame, significant achievements, significant direct value to the patron or having a fancy academic title before your name.
Open source developers usually can't really offer much in terms of tangible value since the price tag on their work is zero (although in some cases, it still makes business sense to fund them if progress in or a degree of control of their work is important enough).

If you think your private work is important enough to other people for these people to fund, a more sensible course of action would be to try and profit from it directly. This can be done through selling/licensing it, advertising, providing related services etc. like most open source companies do.

One indication of the value of your work is how often do your licenses get used for creating deriviative work or redistribution.

Just my 0b10 cents worth.

Jul. 30th, 2006 11:16 am (UTC)
Re: Patronage
"You're implying that Freecell Solver is the only useful creation I've written of significance"

Actually i was implying that Freecell Solver is useless...
Aug. 2nd, 2006 04:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Patronage
Dear Mr. Anonymous,

I don't know who you are, but let me inform you that following mulix' lead I will delete such anonymous comments posted to my blog, that were not posted by a valid LiveJournal username or signed with a real name, email, homepage, weblog, or email that I can recognise.

From my experience with linmagazine.co.il the so-called anonymous posters tend to make comments that are annoying, defamatory, and redundant. On Slashdot, they call such people as you "Anonymous Cowards", and for a good reason.

So next time, either identify yourself, or don't comment at all.

You have been warned.
May. 9th, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)
Free Software and the Useless Arts
If you start to look at things more objectivly, anything more than getting you basic needs for survival met is useless, this includes all sorts of hobbies, all institutions, any form of entertainment. If humans thought that way we would have never differentiated ourselves from other apes.

It seems to me the real problem with Freecell Solver is a marketing problem rather than that some people find no use for the program.

1) People who would be intrested in freecell solver not knowing about the program.

2)People who would pay for features to be added to freecell solver not realizing that they can get features added for a reasonable ammount of money. We might have $60 to spend on a program, but we probably don't have enough to pay for programmers to hack away on it for a year.

3) Not enough people who use the program caring about improving it.

Much of this could be solved simply by making people, who are very much unlike the writer of freecell solver, aware of the program and how they can pay for enhancements. Part of it is simply getting the word out about it. The thing is, the people who would like a program such as freecell solver and pay for its enhancement, are unlikely to be intrested in programming at all, and probably don't want to read long involved discussions about free software and code. This goes hand in hand with the idea, that most open source/ free software programs are writen for programers, by programers, and not writen by programers for "other" people, because programers don't really spend alot of time talking to "other" people because they are outside of the programers little group of friends.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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