Episode 198

FOSSY 2023 with Aaron Wolf


September 8th, 2023

20 mins 11 secs

Your Host
Special Guest

About this Episode


Aaron Wolf


Richard Littauer

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! Richard is in Portland at FOSSY, the Free and Open Source Software Yearly conference that is held by the Software Freedom Conservancy. Join us on a captivating journey with guest Aaron Wolf, the co-founder of Snowdrift.coop, as he unravels the story behind the innovative crowdfunding platform for open source projects. From his initial resistance to founding something, through his eye-opening Linux experience and a friend’s prompt to solve a pressing problem, Aaron details how he ended up creating Snowdrift.coop. Learn about the platform’s unique funding model, the early challenges and progress made over a decade, and its exciting recent developments. Despite not being a programmer, but a music teacher, Aaron finds parallels between his profession and the open source world, while he passionately advocates for the open source process in other industries. Discover the ups and downs faced by Snowdrift, the challenges of running a campaign, its current standing as a debt-free entity with a dedicated team, and a recent major milestone is revealed. Download this episode now!

[00:00:29] Aaron tells us about himself and being a co-founder, and how his friend encouraged him to act on a problem he was complaining about which is the lack of funding for public goods. He was frustrated with certain software limitations and desired improvements, which led to his idea for Snowdrift.

[00:03:38] How does Snowdrift work? Patrons pledge to donate more to a project when others join the crowd that gives together, a method they call 'crowdmatching'. Aaron expresses his reluctance to start something like Snowdrift due to the complexities involved, but his friend convinced him to give it a shot.

[00:04:47] Aaron talks about the challenges faced and progress made over the past 10 ten years, and the importance of early adopters. He also tells us he’s not a programmer but a music teacher and discusses the similarities he sees between open source software and the process of creating music.

[00:06:26] He talks about his frustration with the copyright system and how it hampers creativity, discusses his belief in the need for an open source process in other industries, like music education, and discusses the obstacles encountered when trying to use open source software and run Snowdrift as a co-op. He shares the Snowdrift gained early attention and interest but struggled to secure funding.

[00:09:30] Aaron shares that despite difficulties, Snowdrift is debt-free, has a small, dedicated team, and 156 patrons with real money.

[00:11:52] Richard and Aaron discuss the difficulties of applying for and giving grants. Aaron mentions they have not focused much on this aspect as it requires a lot of time and expresses that their work is still relevant and needed as it was 10 years ago. He also reveals a recent major milestone.

[00:13:55] Aaron mentions their early effort in reviewing around 760 crowdfunding sites to understand the landscape. They found many people working on similar projects but not collaborating, leading to many of these projects disappearing after a few months.

[00:15:31] Aaron highlights Open Collective as the closest to their own project, and mentions the benefits of Open Collective, including their legal foundation and handling of money, which Snowdrift has struggled with.

[00:17:37] We hear about Aaron’s talk on the nature of public goods and why coordination is necessary for their type of solution.

[00:18:02] Find out where you can follow Aaron online.



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