When Open Source Becomes Too Successful?

The New York Times has an interesting read in the article Firefox and the Anxiety of Growing Pains:

…the people behind Firefox have a dilemma: what happens — and what is owed to volunteer contributors — when an open-source project starts to become successful?

Some 1,000 to 2,000 people have contributed code to Firefox, according to the Mozilla Foundation, which distributes the Firefox browser. An estimated 10,000 people act as testers for the program, and an estimated 80,000 help spread the word.

Mozilla plans to make enough money to keep growing. But a windfall came in the form of a royalty contract with Google, which, like the other search companies, is always competing for better placement on browsers. Under the agreement, the Google search page is the default home page when a user first installs Firefox, and is the default in the search bar. In the last two years, the deal has brought in more than $100 million. (Google has a similar placement with Apple’s Safari.)

Finally, there is the problem of what Mozilla should do with the money, at least the portion that isn’t being reinvested in the Firefox. Throwing money around among volunteers can backfire, Ms. Baker said, though the foundation has been quietly assisting contributors who are hampered by poor equipment.

Instead, Mozilla’s solution is to put money into what Mr. Kapor calls “community purposes.” To that end, the foundation is looking for a new executive director who would focus on worthy projects, although no decisions on what constitutes a worthy project has been made. “We go out and ask,” Ms. Baker said, “and even the community is not actually clear where large amounts of money should go.”

These successes are hard to deny even though the financials have caused some consternation in their community. It would be very interesting to explore similar opportunities in Sakai…

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