Episode 226

Jacob Kaplan-Moss on Compensating Open Source Maintainers (but not that way)


March 29th, 2024

33 mins 35 secs

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About this Episode


Jacob Kaplan-Moss


Richard Littauer | Amanda Casari

Show Notes

This episode of Sustain explores the challenges and dynamics of funding open source projects. Host Richard Littauer and co-host Amanda Casari welcome guest Jacob Kaplan-Moss, Board Member and Treasurer of the Django Software Foundation, and Security Architect at Latacora. The discussion covers Jacob’s recent blog post on the criticism faced by open source maintainers who seek compensation, highlighting the backlash encountered from seeing grants to selling T-shirts. The conversation also explores the ethical use of open source software, the importance of supporting maintainers financially, and the complexities surrounding the definition and licensing of open source software. Additionally, this episode touches on the personal connection to open source, the struggle for maintainers to find sustainable funding models, and the potential impact of high net worth individual donations. Download this episode now to hear more!

[00:00:53] Richard highlights Jacob’s association with Django and his role as a security architect and brings up a blog post Jacob wrote about the experience of being an open source maintainer. He shares examples of maintainers who face undue criticism for monetizing their open source work in various ways and his thesis. Also, Richard endorses the Blue Oak Council and PolyForm Project.

[00:06:24] Amanda appreciates the blog’s message about the sustainability of open source and the need to pay maintainers. Jacob recounts the largely positive reception of his post but also addresses the critical and unproductive responses, and he clarifies his stance on the importance of formal definitions of open source.

[00:10:14] Richard suggests the term “Big Tent Open Source” and discusses the importance of having standards to precent open washing while also encouraging diversity in licensing. Jacob uses the term “monogamish” as an analogy for a more flexible approach to open source licensing.

[00:11:46] Amanda discusses her background in releasing various types of open source work and how it sometimes differs from web apps, and touches on the complexities of open source licensing. She asks Jacob about his concerns regarding the adoption of open source in larger systems, and he shares his experience with government technology procurement, stressing the necessity of precise definitions of open source in that context.

[00:16:40] Richard shifts the conversation to ethical considerations of open source work, specifically when software is used for harmful purposes, like state interventions. Jacob gives us a nuanced view on the ethical use of open source software and the impossibility of drawing a clear line between good and evil uses.

[00:20:56] Jacob provides insights into the Django Software Foundation’s current scale, funding, and staffing, highlighting the significant impact even a small increase in funding could have, and he discusses the challenge of scaling funding across the vast number of open source projects to achieve broad sustainability.

[00:23:16] Jacobs talks about the potential of engaging high net worth individuals and family foundations for donations as they may be more receptive than corporations.

[00:24:54] Richard discusses the groups privilege and raises the question regarding giving back to open source or to the broader community, and Jacob explains he avoids judging others’ financial decisions but acknowledges his own better-off position and the personal moral obligation he feels to give back.

[00:27:05] The conversation shifts to Richard asking Jacob how to support each other’s capitalist ventures while contributing to the open source community. He suggests congratulating individual successes and learning from them, while also being comfortable criticizing the systems and institutions that may be at odds with open source values.

[00:28:53] Find out where you can learn more about Jacob on the internet.


[00:01:40] “There’s this dynamic that happens around open source, where when someone takes money, someone always shows up to criticize them for it.”

[00:04:07] “Anytime an open source maintainer figures out a way to get paid to build a lifestyle, at the very least comfortable, we should be celebrating that.”

[00:06:46] “The community has coalesced around a definition of open source as defined by the OSI. I was like wait a minute, how are you conflating the open source community with one foundation? I don’t agree with this conflation of the OSI speaks for all open source.”

[00:13:39] “If you work in technology for the government ling enough, eventually you come to realize that every problem is a procurement problem.”

[00:18:16] “Even the MIT license is, do whatever you want, just don’t sue me.”

[00:22:18] “To reach a point where I would say that open source as a whole is broadly sustainable, I would want every single project to have that level of funding associated with it.”


  • [00:30:11] Amanda’s spotlight is a book coming out next month called, “Software Engineering for Data Scientists.”
  • [00:30:42] Richard’s spotlight is the book, “Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World.”
  • [00:31:20] Jacob’s spotlight is the PolyForm family of licenses and the book, “Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project.”



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