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For those who haven't seen Bounty County yet, it is Downhill Battle's new effort to make a central open source bounties site, where open source programmers can go to find projects that they can get paid for. Excellent job! I'd like to think that I can take some credit for this, since I was prodding them earlier this month about the need for a such a site, but it's something they had thought about in the past, and they did all the work, so it's difficult to understate my role ^_^

At any rate, while Bounty County is a great start, it falls short of the ambitious project which I outlined for them over the phone, so I'd like to briefly share with you my vision. Below is an excerpt from an e-mail which I sent to Nick and Holmes today.
Hey Nick and Holmes,

Congratulations on making Bounty County and getting it Slashdotted! As always, you folks work quickly ^_^ I hope that it will serve as a good way to help open source projects get the coders that they need, and to compensate programmers for their time.

However, I had something slightly different in mind, which I would like to work on... a user-oriented open source software bounties site.

One problem with open source software is that users who are not programmers have difficulty telling the difference between freeware and truly free software. The freedom to adapt a program to your needs seems unimportant if you do not actually have the ability to edit the program yourself. How can we make the freedoms of free software more important to ordinary people? There are a few ways to address this problem:

(1) Increase the programming skills of the ordinary user, or make it easier to acquire these skills. Free online tutorials and teach-ins can help to some extent, but ultimately this method requires a good deal of time and effort on the part of the user, and therefore the majority of users will never bother to acquire programming skills.

(2) Make it possible to program without any significant programming experience whatsoever (or at least make it easier for newbies to program). Some revolutionary intuitive open source programming environment could be imagined to fill this need. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to implement this.

(3) Make it easier for the ordinary user to find programmers who can implement the features and customizations that they want/need. This is the method that currently interests me the most.

I'm convinced that the best way to do this is to set up an open source software bounties site which makes it easy for programmers and ordinary people to get together. Rather than having the money come from the project itself and reflect what its developers see a need for, a user-oriented site would reflect what the public sees a need for. If the developers disagree and think that the feature requests are stupid, there is always the right to fork, which is another thing that makes open source different from proprietary software. As I may have mentioned to you, I envision a system that works with Fundable.org or some similar web 2.0 system to make it easy for users to get together and raise money for a credible bounty, even if no single individual has enough money.

A user-oriented bounty site and a project-oriented bounty site are not mutually exclusive: I think that we could add on a section like that to Bounty County if you were interested. Would that be something that you would approve of? Or do you think this would be best done as a separate site? More importantly, is this a good idea at all? Let me know what you think, and I'll start shopping this idea around.

UPDATE: Nick replied with this quick response:
I like this idea a lot, but it's very ambitious and would be a serious challenge to build. I would need a really really good interface to get beyond a narrow user base and it would need to raise more money than typical bounties if it's moving towards a model where developers are actually doing this stuff for the money. Interface mockups would be the place to start.

We're certainly not opposed to something like this, but we can't really put time into it now, but feel free to take a shot at it and we'll be happy to take a look at plans, schemes, and mockups.

February 2009

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