Contribute to open source and you could make some (Bit)coin

Tip4Commit enables people to tip open source contributors with digital currency

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Contribute to open source and you could maybe get some (or, rather, a portion) of these

Image credit: REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

Earlier this week, my ITworld colleague Matthew Mombrea wrote a great blog post explaining why some of the common fears developers have about contributing to open source are unfounded. If you’re still reluctant to dive into the open source pool then here’s another reason to at least stick your toes in the water: you could now make some money for your contributions. Or, more specifically, you could earn some Bitcoins.

Tip4Commit is a new service that grew out of a project created for this year’s Rails Rumble by the team behind Anonymous Ads, a Bitcoin-based ad network. The idea is pretty simple: people who’d like to encourage open source contributions can donate a Bitcoin amount to any GitHub project (support for BitBucket is supposedly coming). Any developer whose pull request is accepted will then get a tip equal to 1% of the available Bitcoin funds for that project. 95% of donated funds will be used to tip new commits; the remaining 5% is used for supporting the service.

On the Tip4Commit site you can see the list of supported GitHub projects and the value of their associated Bitcoin donations. Currently there are 23 projects with Bitcoin balances available for tipping. The project with the largest balance is for t, a command-line interface for Twitter. As of this writing, the next developer who gets his or her commit accepted will receive a tip of 0.00439206 Ƀ, equivalent to, at the current exchange rate (again, of this writing) of $890/Ƀ, about $3.90.

This project seems to be generating mostly positive response in the developer community. There have been a few questions or concerns raised, such as

"The problem with this funding model is that it encourages fluff pull requests…." sferik

"The past has shown that everyone, even persons who run e-wallets and currency exchanges, severely underestimates the amount of security such an endeavour requires." tinco

"...if every commit donates 1% of the balance to the commit, that means that the project almost never donates it's full balance. So if this ever really takes off, the original developer of tip4commit will be holding a lot of money that takes a long time to pay out." unreal37

The good news is, the developers seem to be open to hearing and responding to these concerns, admitting that this is still very much a work-in-progress and that they don’t have all the answers yet.

My take on it is that it seems like a good way to encourage more contributions to open source. It’s pretty simple and doesn’t require any work by the project owners. Sure, there are a number questions or concerns, like those raised above, but they don’t seem like deal-breakers just yet.

There are already other services that enable people to get paid for open source contributions, so this sort of idea seems to be gaining traction. The only concern I really have is whether paying people to contribute to open source goes against the concept of open source, that is, getting people to contribute for the sake of contributing to a worthwhile project. As one commenter on Hacker News put it:

"I really don't think this kind of financial incentives are good for open source projects." ostikk

But, I still tend to think the potential good this service offers outweighs this concern. It will be interesting to see whether the whole concept really catches on in a big way.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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