License Zero

gainful open software development

June 23, 2020

Indie Code Catalog calling on coders for the next evolution of L0

You’re searching through your favorite software registry. Maybe npm, maybe, maybe RubyGems, maybe You find what you’re looking for. It’s not a big, corporate project. But the signs of a maintainer who cares are all there.

You’re glancing the metadata for “MIT” or “BSD” or “Apache”, but alas, you don’t see it. Instead there’s a link to a webpage. Something about “free for open source”. A big button to “buy a license”. Not what you were hoping for.

You tab back to your search, and dig deeper. You find a few more candidates, but none of them feels 100%. One seems unfinished. One looks like it never really got started. Another looks earnest, but hasn’t been touched in a year or more. Probably thrown over the wall from somebody’s contract gig.

Code is code, even thrown over a wall, so you dive in. You find yourself swimming. Not your style. Not your design. Different tooling. Unclear where to add what you need. Copy, paste, notice, and patch, at best.

That frustrated, impatient feeling sets in. You’re think about working around it, putting off the feature. You’re thinking about taking time to code it up from scratch yourself. But the clock says you’re already behind. You glance up at your tabs and see the licensing page for the ready-to-go option still open. You take another look.

The rules actually aren’t that complicated. It’s just that they aren’t good for you. You’re at work, and this is a work project. It’s not open source. It’s for a client. There’s a free trial, but the client wants something for the long term.

It’s not about a donation, but there’s nobody policing the rules. It’s all on the honor system. You figure yourself pretty honorable, but suspect you’ll forget about when a trial ends. You don’t want it blowing up on you later. That means the buy button, which you don’t particularly want to click.

But the price is right. Not nothing, but not a gazillion dollars, either. And it’s a one-time charge, not some sleazy subscription everyone knows you’ll probably forget to cancel. So you click through and fill out the form: name, address, e-mail, and credit card. Fuck it. You buy. It’s easy. You can figure out how to expense it later.

Immediately, you get an e-mail. There’s a PDF receipt. Looks like a license, the kind of thing a lawyer would want to see. You file that away for safekeeping. While you’re doing that, another e-mail, this time from the developer, comes in. A canned message. Thanks for buying a license and supporting my work. But also an invite to a private web forum, for roadmap talk and peer support.

You set all that aside, and get back to work. Integration goes pretty well. The doc is good and the API is clean. Your tests start passing, but you’re not sure you’ve done it right. So you drop into the forum and post a quick call for confirmation, as you move onto other things. By the end of the day, you’ve got a few thumbs-up emoji. You’re on the right track. Eventually, the maintainer themself weighs in. Another thumbs-up. But also a thanks for support. They mention the project page.

Sure enough, your name now appears on the page for the project, showing you bought a license. Along with a mess of other names, including a few you vaguely recognize from the forum. You see a few company names, too. Clicking around the site, you see the same for other projects. You can find more in your language with a couple of links.

Figuring it couldn’t hurt, you go ahead and create an account. It remembers the project you just bought into, and lists it on your profile page. But more than that, the site welcomes you to offer your own work on the honor system, too. Just hook up your Stripe account and go.

I will build this platform shortly. If you’d like to try the approach for your own work, send me an e-mail. I am actively assembling a group of early adopters.

This approach would represent an evolution of License Zero. But also enough of a departure, and enough of an opportunity, to warrant a new brand. A few points of comparison:

A website with a showcase needs something to showcase. If you’re interested in offering one of the first projects at launch—either new work or a new version of an existing project—I’d be very grateful for the chance to raise you up. Both as part of the seed of a new platform to bring effective indie business models to software, but also as an active participant in guiding and feeding back on the design, early on.