This is a transcript. For the video, see How to Grow, Support, and Fund your Open Source Project - with Dries Buytaert - Pt. 2.

[00:00:00] Michael Meyers: Hello, and welcome to another Tag1 TeamTalk episode, the podcast and vlog of Tag1 Consulting. Today, we're talking about how to grow, support, and fund your open source project with Dries Buytaert, the founder and project lead of the Drupal open source content management system and framework that powers one out of every 30 websites on the internet.

[00:00:20] Dries is also the founder of Acquia, a startup that was acquired in late 2019 by Vista Equity Partners for a billion dollars. Acquia's enterprise digital experience platform enables you to build applications on top of Drupal. We wanted to have Dries here today because you know, at Tag1, we're involved in a lot of different open source projects.

[00:00:42] And we wanted to do a series of talks with the founders of popular open source projects to talk about how they got their project to sustainability, to encourage everyone to do more, to support the open source projects that we rely on. To help the founders of other projects, you know, grow and help their projects be successful and to help open source developers get funded to work on their projects.

[00:01:06] And that's what we're going to be talking about next. I'm Michael Meyers, the managing director at Tag1 Consulting. And joining me today to talk with Dries is Fabian Franz, the VP of technology at Tag1 and the Drupal 7 framework manager and core maintainer, and Kevin Jahns, the founder and project lead of Yjs, an open source framework that enables you to add real-time collaboration to any application.

[00:01:31] Because we had so much to talk about with Dries. We broke this down into two segments, be sure to check out the first segment on growing your open source projects, contributor base, and user base which is also a bunch of amazing life lessons from Dries. In this segment we're going to talk about financially supporting your open source development and work .And Dries. I want to go back to something that you had talked about a bunch in the last segment and, you know, while not every open source project is, is looking to be commercialized or every open source developer looking to make money off their work.

[00:02:07] There are so many parallels between a startup and an open source project. And I'm wondering, you know, is if I want to launch an open source project and make it successful, is, is that like the frame of reference that I should be having when I think about how to execute?

[00:02:23]Dries Buytaert: it doesn't have to be, I don't think so, but it could be, I mean, there's definitely parallels as you mentioned, right?

[00:02:29] Like I think in order to grow and sustain an open source project, first of all, you need to get users. I mean, I think there needs to be a reason why the project needs to exist and unless you have enough users that care deeply about your project, it's going to be hard to sustain it. You know, if, if nobody cares about your project. That's going to be hard to be successful with it in a way.

[00:03:00] And the same is true at a startup. Like you can go create a startup, but if you built a product that nobody cares about, you're not going to get many customers. And so again, I think everything starts with having a great project or a great solution. That's something that solves a real need in the market.

[00:03:19] And I think that's, that has to be there for an open source project too. If it, if it. If you want it to grow, you know, if you just build something for yourself and you only have one or two users, that's fine too, but then they're going to end up maintaining it yourself too. Like, unless you get traction in the markets it's going to be hard to find funding for your open source project.

[00:03:42] Michael Meyers: When you started Drupal, how much of your time? I should say not when you started Drupal but when you open sourced Drupal and it started to grow, how much of your time went into writing code versus, you know, things that might be associated with, you know, running a startup, like marketing quote-unquote sales?

[00:04:00] Dries Buytaert: Yeah. Well, at first it was a hundred percent writing code, and then over time it changed to almost 0%. Funny enough. Right. And so so I think it was kind of a gradual evolution or a change. But once I open sourced it. I think after probably a year or two, I really started to recognize that I needed to talk about Drupal, maybe go to conferences to present about Drupal, email people, about Drupal, chime in and comment on websites about Drupal, like those kinds of things, you know?

[00:04:32] And and so, yeah, it started to take more of my time. I don't, it's hard to quantify, but let's say you went to 20% of my time in the, in the beginning. And then, you know, it started changing to a bigger number. Like, you know, my role evolved from being an individual contributor developer, a hundred percent developer to that of a project lead.

[00:04:52] And when I wake up in the morning, I literally think about what is the most impactful thing I can do for Drupal and for better or worse, the answer is never write code. Like today, it's not, you know, in the early days. Yes. Because again, you have to have a great product before you can attract people. So you have to write code.

[00:05:15] But today my special skill, let's say the thing that I can bring to the table that has the biggest impact is not writing code. I love writing code and I miss contributing code to Drupal. I miss it every day, but it's not how I maximize my impact on the project.

[00:05:34] Kevin Jahns: It's interesting to me how you lay a focus on improving the project and like, you want to want your project to succeed and you're not really delaying a focus on what you want to do.

[00:05:45] Right. It's really just say, okay, I need Drupal to succeed. What do I need to do? that's, that's an interesting mindset, like did I capture that right?

[00:05:54] Dries Buytaert: Yeah. That's how I think about it. A lot of things, I guess, not just Drupal, but like my goal is to, you know, make Drupal successful, you know, and have an impact with Drupal.

[00:06:05] There's different ways we can talk about how do you measure success. But anyway, for me, it's like have, make sure Drupal has its maximum impact on the world. And then I look at. What are our biggest challenges? Sometimes it's a funding challenge, sometimes it's we need to buy servers, sometimes it's we need to do this.

[00:06:25] So, I mean, like it changes all the time. And I think of my role as a project lead as trying to prioritize those problems and trying to help fix those that aren't currently being fixed. And so yeah, what I do changes all the time, I kind of go from fixing the next biggest problem. And I think startups are that way too.

[00:06:49] Or companies in general, I feel like companies are always broken. Open source projects are always broken and the goal is to fix the problem. Once you fix the problem, guess what, there's another problem and you have to go fix that problem. And so my job, whether it's a Drupal or an Acquia or other organizations that have been involved in seems to always be around fixing the biggest problem that exists.

[00:07:19] And these problems are almost like a pendulum. I kind of move around, like, no, this is broken. All right, fixed it. Oh no, that's broken. I got to fix that. Oh, this thing broke again. And it breaks for a good reasons. Like, not because things are bad, but maybe we've grown a lot. We've doubled, tripled in size again.

[00:07:38] And you know, the way we do things has to evolve. And so anyway, I look at it. But that's how I look at the, at the challenge, I guess, you know, like trying to find the most important thing to fix. And it doesn't matter what it is. It could be, could be an algorithm or an architecture or something in the code, or it could be a funding need, it could be attracting certain people.

[00:08:01] It could be well it could be a legal issue that we have to deal with. it could be anything. And I've learned all of those things along the way. Like, I've never been like, how do I deal with this? Like, I remember one story, actually, if you're interested in a story, like at some point in Drupal's history people started to kind of use the name Drupal, like sort of inappropriately.

[00:08:23] And so I'm like, Oh, we need a, we need to apply for a trademark. I know. I'd say I went to a lawyer. Imagine I'm a software engineer. Right. So I went to a lawyer and like how do, I apply for a trademark and and the lawyer is like, yeah, we can do all of this work for you. I forgot what it was, but it's like, it's going to be like 10,000 euros or something for the European trademark, American trademark, and then international trademark.

[00:08:47] and I'm like, wow, I don't have $10,000. So it literally spent like the next week learning everything I could about trademark law and how to apply for trademarks. And I ended up doing all the paperwork myself and submitted it and ended up paying 2000 euros or something because you still have to pay the trademark agencies.

[00:09:09] And we had a trademark. Problem solved, on to next problem. And so like, you know, like you kinda learn, I guess, what you have to learn to make the project successful.

[00:09:24] Fabian Franz: A quick question. It's interlude, but really curious. What is the biggest problem you're working on right now for Drupal?

[00:09:33] Dries Buytaert: Oh yeah, that's a great, so I think, well, we need the most right now for for is more innovation and more innovation.

[00:09:42] If you work backwards from that is really all about attracting new contributors. And I think what we need the most is attract new contributors. And a lot of the things that I do, you know, working with the Drupal Association and you know, striving to get new contributors. You know, but it also, it also propagates into division and my DrupalCon keynotes, where I think we need to go and try to focus.

[00:10:10] Not only on the things we have to do, must do like upgrading JavaScript libraries because they're going to be end of life. We have to do that right. For security, but trying to help the Drupal project branch out. Get off the island, embrace web service API. So embrace Javascript. And so the roadmap and the, and the strategy is kind of focused on that.

[00:10:33] And partially because we want to attract new people, new contributors, you know, and a lot of developers today, they want to work with Javascript technologies, just ask Kevin. And so I think Drupal has to go that way, and so a lot of the programs and the initiatives. are focused on that. and then the other thing that I personally believe needs to happen, I think there's some pretty big market shifts, you know, where we're evolving and have been talking about this for like six plus years.

[00:11:05] We've been evolving from a world where organizations need a website to where they need a digital experience platform, you know, and~~, ~~and again, a lot of their roadmap is also centered around, those things like web service APIs are a big part of that. Like, because you no longer have to just publish content to a website, you have to publish it to websites, but also mobile phones, maybe chat bots or chat solutions and voice assistance.

[00:11:37] All of these things as an example, and 10 years ago, even. Definitely 20 years ago, when Drupal started, websites were standalone systems. You know, you just put up a website and that was it today. It's not uncommon to have a website be integrated with like 10 different backend technologies, you know, e-commerce solutions, different marketing solutions.

[00:12:04] And so. You know that those market trends and market shifts, it's important for Drupal to adapt to these too. And so I try to take all of these inputs in a way, and there is more, I'm not going to go through the whole thing. You should watch my Dries Notes for some of them, but I try to take all of these inputs and then think about all right, here's the things that we have to do to be successful.

[00:12:28] And some of that is more technically focused. Some of it is more organizationally focused. Some of it is very tactical, like, you know, because of COVID the DrupalCon conferences where kinda, you know, wiped out, I'd go, we couldn't get together in person. So that's something that we had to deal with.

[00:12:48] And so we had to get out of these contracts, which was hard. We have to switch pivot to virtual conferences. That was hard. So some of it is maybe not glamorous or anything, it's kind of the stuff you have to do, because if we didn't do it, the Drupal Association would have been frankly bankrupt, you know?

[00:13:09] And so we had to like, stop everything else, pull up, pull up our sleeves, if you will, and go raise money to make the Drupal Association survive. And we did, we raised half a million dollars and forgot what it was a month or so, or two months. So we get these things that you just have to deal with. Fortunately today we're in a great place with the Drupal Association.

[00:13:34] You no longer have to worry about bankruptcy, but a year ago we did. And that was the most important thing for me to work on. Obviously

[00:13:45] Michael Meyers: Speaking of, of raising money you know, just to jump back to the, some of the parallels between startups and open source projects, what, I mean, one of the reasons why you said that you started Acquia was to grow Drupal and you make Drupal bigger.

[00:14:00] If you know, I'm running an open source project, you know, what are some of the pros and cons of that approach? I know that's not the approach for everybody, but if you were thinking of going that route, you know, are there, you know, some, some downsides of doing that, or you said, you know, you no longer work on the code, you know, maybe that's something that, you know, is really important to a founder but perhaps there are ways like a business partner that could alleviate some of the day-to-day work. I don't know.

[00:14:30] Dries Buytaert: Yeah. I mean, I think there are so many different models, so like, I don't think there's one right or wrong approach here. I mean, the previous episode we talked about Linus Torvalds. I mean, he's still writing code every day.

[00:14:42] Right. And he led it to others like Red Hat and other organizations to provide a lot of the funding. You know, and he decided what I want to do is write code and that's great. That's what he loves doing he should, if he can. Right. So in my case you know, it's a little bit different and honestly I would have been happy with either of those scenarios.

[00:15:04] But actually do enjoy the variety of my job right now. Where I can, you know, focus on different things. So I think, I think there's different models on how to sustain and grow open source. But again, it's helpful to start with the end goal. Like how big do you want it to be? What do you do? What is a project about not every project lends itself to diff certain models, like, like in the case of Drupal, what's unique about it is that first of all, There's hundreds of millions of websites, you know, that's, that's good, right?

[00:15:44] Not every project has that kind of reach. Second of all, each of these websites is unique, which is pretty special. If you think about it, everybody wants to customize it. And that could be at a minimum with a different look and feel like a theme. Right or yeah, visual theme or through modules, like they want a custom functionality.

[00:16:08] So I guess what that allows you to create an ecosystem because everybody, end users typically are going to want to use a Drupal shop like Tag1 to do some of that work. Like 80% of the open source projects probably do not match these two criteria where they have that reach and the need to customize.

[00:16:31] I mean, in, in the previous episodes Fabian mentioned KDE. Right, which is like a windows environment or a Gnome would be another open source windows environment. Like people just don't want to customize it to the point where they want to use you know, digital agency or a development shop to go build me, my custom desktop.

[00:16:54] It just doesn't happen. Right. And so the options for KDE are very different. Like. Because in the Drupal world, a lot of the funding comes from the Drupal agencies or the Drupal shops, the businesses that can make money, move to Drupal. So again, you have to look at all of these things because if you have an open source project that does not allow an ecosystem of thousands of shops, small businesses or large businesses to make money with the software, your options are very different or probably way more limited.

[00:17:29] You know. And in the case of Linux, it's very different. Like in the, in the world of Drupal, there is tens of thousands of companies making money with Drupal. In the world of Linux. It's probably, way fewer, you know, but it's - they're massive. Like it's like IBM spending $40 million a year contributing to Linux versus in the Drupal world, it's, you know, hundreds or thousands actually of companies may be contributing the equivalent of 5,000 euros or $5,000 a year. So it's, it's a massive amount of small contributions compared to a dozen of large contribution. So again, if they really look at the ecosystem, the end-users, how the money flows, I guess, around your project and see where you can tap into

[00:18:26] Michael Meyers: What percentage of agencies, or I should say what percentage of users of Drupal, whether it's end users or agencies or individual consultants, what percent actually contribute back something, whether that's finances, code, documentation, like some level of contribution. Is that less than 1%?

[00:18:49] Dries Buytaert: Oh yeah.

[00:18:50] I mean, it's, it's, it's a fraction of a percent, I mean, think about, so each year, I, I, you know, we have this credit system as you know, in Drupal and so we can track contribution.

[00:19:03] It's not perfect, but it's it's directionally correct? I would say, or it gives us a sense of the order of magnitude. But each year we have almost 10,000 individual contributors, a little bit less. Then each year. We have like 1,200 or so organizational contributors. Right. So 10,000. Now, if you think about the number of Drupal sites that exist and you divide that by the number of, you know, by 10,000, you would get us a very small percentage.

[00:19:35] Right, it would be 0.0001% or something. I don't know. I actually did the math. So think in the US it's like one out of a hundred thousand or so US citizens contribute to Drupal. I calculated it for every continent. It's slightly higher in Europe. The per capita contribution to Drupal is slightly higher.

[00:20:02] But yeah. so it gives you a sense, right? Like it's very small and that's okay. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing. And if I think about my own behavior and you should think about yours, like we all use open source all day, whether it's Firefox or many of us have contributed to Firefox. You know. Here we go., it's fine.

[00:20:26] It's fine to use software and not contribute.

[00:20:32] Michael Meyers: Yeah.

[00:20:34] Kevin Jahns: [ What do you think can we do instead of contributing, because I'm never gonna contribute to Firefox. What can we do as developers or just as people who use open source or believe in it?

[00:20:47] Dries Buytaert: Well, I think there's different, many kinds of contribution.

[00:20:50] It doesn't have to be a technical contribution, but like even telling your friends and family about Firefox, I think is a contribute. It's a very small one. That's not going to win you awards, but it is still a valuable one, you know? So I think that's something we can do. We can promote open source.

[00:21:09] That's easy. And I think a lot of us do do that. I mean, I have promoted Firefox, so I guess in a way I have contributed to Firefox But maybe not in a substantial way. I don't know. I think we can contribute time to projects. We can contribute money to open source projects or donate money. And we can contribute our talents to them too.

[00:21:33] And you have to pick what kind of combination of these things you want to do and apply them to what number of open source projects. And again, as we talked about in the previous episode, you can't do everything. So you have to make some choices and unfortunately it means you cannot contribute to everything, to the level that you may want to.

[00:21:58] So I think a lot of people contribute in a selfish way, and that doesn't mean it's bad. It's good because they contribute because their livelihoods depends on the project, but in contributing, they're still doing a lot of great things for others. Tag1 is probably an example. Acquia. My company's an example, right.

[00:22:21] We contribute to Drupal because our businesses depends on the success of Drupal, but in doing so, it's still awesome for the rest of the world. And so I think very few open source contributions are purely with the emphasis on purely altruistic. I, I think there's always some reason why people contribute and it usually involves, you know, it usually impacts their paycheck, let's say. And that's okay. I don't, I think there's maybe a stigma around that. And especially in the early days of open source, commercial involvement was, was considered bad and I think it's wrong. I think it should be embraced. And in fact, I think it should be promoted.

[00:23:06] It should be encouraged. And I think it's one of the things Drupal has done well.

[00:23:13] Fabian Franz: I agree. I think that's also some other currency that is Something's a credit system on for accomplished shows. And that is time and attention. Someone is spending on something, but also recognition that you are getting from being involved for a long time.

[00:23:28] And in a community like Drupal we can then build a career upon that. And I think that's, in my opinion, something that's not talked about in that, that everyone, one that is putting time into something is also creating this compounding effect of when they're at an interview, they can point all their contributions of what they did to project or whatever like that, where they have have a real win, or they've been doing nice contributions, then being invited as a speaker to speak about something.

[00:24:01] And then again they get this currency of, of nowadays you would probably. Twitter followers, et cetera. But all those followers being they're hidden because they're just a recognized member of community or real as in a Twitter follower count or whatever. I think that's a kind of currency outside of money as well.

[00:24:21] Dries Buytaert: Yeah, I think that's very true and well said. I think just to shift gears a little bit, like often in conversations, when we talk about open source scalability and sustainability, I feel like they have always often approach it from like, how do I get funding for myself, you know, as a developer. And I think that's very important.

[00:24:43] I'm not dismissing that, but I think I'm deeply interested in scaling and sustaining open source, but not for those reasons. I think it's really important that we figure this out for the world. Not necessarily just for individual contributors, it’s also important for them, but there's a class of problems that we can only solve with open source.

[00:25:08] And until we make open source sustainable, it will be really hard to solve. Example could be building an open web. Like no company in the world, Google, Microsoft, Apple are going to build a pro privacy, anti-monopoly open web. They're just not going to say, Hey, let's do this. No. Right. And so how do we make sure we built an open web that's top-notch pro privacy, no monopolies, truly open. That will last for generations for hundreds of years, thousands of years. Well, it's going to be built by open source. By open source communities around the world, and we have to make open source sustainable. Long-term sustainable, not just ‘We bridged the gap for another three months’ sustainable.

[00:26:05] We have to think about how do we build economic systems for hundreds of years that can pay contributors for hundreds of years to build an open web. This is just the one example the open web. But I also think it's very important because in many ways, open source has won. I mean, everybody uses open source.

[00:26:27] But the open source businesses, you know, creating open source businesses, whether these are for-profits or nonprofits, but basically these sustainable systems for open source, I really do believe that these are the last hurdle to make every company, every software company and open source software company.

[00:26:52] Like if we can figure out business models around open source, because you know, when I started Acquia, there was maybe a dozen of open-source companies. Now there's probably hundreds, but you compared it against there being hundreds of thousands of software companies that are proprietary. So the ratio of open source companies versus proprietary software companies.

[00:27:15] I mean, it's completely off still. Right? So while open source between quotes has one. It has one is with technology and an, a license. So let's say it may have won as a collaboration model. Although a lot of them are struggling, but he hasn't truly won as a business. It doesn't mean there aren't successful open source businesses.

[00:27:37] There are, but it's not the default business model, you know? And until we fix those things until we make open source, scalable and sustainable, not for the individual contributor, but for like large projects for hundreds of years, we will not be able to solve a certain class of problems, like building an open web.

[00:27:59] And we will not be able to make every software company in the world, an open source business by default and the alternative. And this is, these are things we have to do. In my opinion, the alternative is we're stuck in the world that we live in today, which means most software is proprietary and certain big problems.

[00:28:20] Like an open web will not be fixed easily. You know, we'll make, we'll inch our way to it, or we make some steps forward and then we take some step backwards, but there isn't like this concentrated effort from like, let's go fix this. And that's why I think some of the things that are happening in the blockchain world are actually pretty interesting today because they're actually thinking about some of these economic systems and reward systems etcetra, etcetra.

[00:28:47] Anyway, I just wanted to say those things and I say them passionately, because so often I see the conversations on Twitter and it's about, you know, one individual trying to sustain his open source project, which again, Maybe that's where it starts. I'm not, not trying to diminish it. It's important that we can do it at the small scale.

[00:29:09] But what I'm really passionate about is how do we do it at the massive scale, you know, because that's how we actually have massive impact on things like the web.

[00:29:23]Fabian Franz: Do you know of any resources that are like having, how to's, guides, whatever on how to start an open source company, essentially?

[00:29:31]Dries Buytaert: I don't know of any, you know it usually involves asking others that have done it, trying to learn from them.

[00:29:39] But yeah, there's not, as far as I know, there's not like a playbook for how to start your open source company. Good idea. I don't know if there is one specific playbook either. You know, it goes back to my earlier point, like, feel like in the startup world, there is more playbooks. Like you do this, then you do that.

[00:29:59] And then you raise this much money, then you can hire these kinds of people. But in the open source world, it's, it's hard. And I think the challenge with open source sometimes is you really have to start with the business model. And not just with like, you know, thinking about how you're going to bring your open source project to market.

[00:30:20] How do you think you'll make money so you can sustain it and then you work backwards from that, like, all right. So if I want it to be like this, I need this kind of license. I need this kind of trademark policy or more broadly, I need this kind of governance model, which includes license and trademark and other stuff.

[00:30:39] Right. And so. A lot of us, myself included, we kind of struggle or we kind of fall into this by accident. And then we have to kind of make it work what we have, but like, if I were to do it again, I would actually work backwards versus, you know, kind of be an accidental project lead and an accidental startup founder.

[00:31:01] Kevin Jahns: And that makes yeah.

[00:31:05] That makes a lot of sense. Like this is actually how I approach it. Basically I try out different things. Some things work, some things don't and there are good months. There are bad one months and I'm basically trying stuff out because everything is not clear to me. And I think there's like business opportunity for me as well.

[00:31:25] If I think about it, like I could. For example, create a service around my framework. I could create a consulting company and, you know, there are different things that I could do. These are - this is why I found it. Interesting how you explained it, that you want to, that you're focusing your company on improving Drupal and making it successful.

[00:31:45] But like, what I want to do is mostly code actually, and I want to solve an interesting problem. And like talking to Marijn this was like, I got kind of inspired by that because all I want to do is be Linus Torvalds working on it for 30 years. And that's completely fine with me, like, at least for the next 10 years, because it's an interesting problem.

[00:32:06] And there are other projects that don't have that opportunity that they can monetize it for example, by providing a marketplace or something like it. For example, the buffer polyfill that is used in Node.js. it is created by Feross and he has been maintaining it for, I don't know, seven years now.

[00:32:24] And he doesn't get any, any monetary benefit from doing it, it's just for fun. And because he has a lot of downloads and that gets them inspired. And I think that's fair, but there are other packages that are not even popular, but that I used by millions of projects. And that's why I also think it's also important to think about the individual who's contributing to open source because all companies are basically using it.

[00:32:53] Like if you're using Node.js, you dependent on some, some guy working in his basement who is earning less than average because he is working 50% on open source.

[00:33:03]Dries Buytaert: Very true. There's some real issues with open source. Right? Right. Relying on volunteer contribution only goes so far. So

[00:33:18] Fabian Franz: Regarding back to the playbooks real quick as to have experienced both,as an open source founder. And. A company founder co-founder do you think by now, also on investors fast I've understood.

[00:33:31] Do you think some of say startup blueprints, startup plans that are like out there could be adapted to open source? Like that a company could be in startup, but it could be an open source startup essentially. Because the value of startup does not depend on the code that it has, but on other things that it does really well.

[00:33:53] Dries Buytaert: Yeah. So I think it's a really good question. And I've spent weeks, months thinking about this throughout my career, and I couldn't find a playbook. In the startup or business world. And so I actually started looking for playbooks outside of the business world. Right. And if you started going down that path, you very quickly find and learn about things like the free rider problem which I'm sure you've heard about.

[00:34:23] But then I find things like the work of Eleanor Ostrom, I'm not sure if you know who she is, but she is an economist. She won the Nobel prize for her work. And actually one of the things that she focused on, or the thing that you focused on is you know, communities or commons as it is a economic term.

[00:34:46] That have been successfully managed and self-governed for hundreds of years. So let me back up for a second. Right? So open source is often compared to the free rider problem, meaning everybody can use the software and you don't have to pay or contribute. And then, but you know, it's a, it's a, it's a common economic problem.

[00:35:06] You know, again, if you take it outside of software and startups to the world, like public parks would be an example where everybody can use the park. You can go and hike in the park, but who's going to maintain it? And initially those commons were maintained by the people that would use the park, but as there's more and more people, the incentives for maintaining the park actually go down.

[00:35:32] And often you have to resolve to, but they call in economic terms, either centralization or privatization, which means you have to give the park to the government and they will raise taxes from citizens. And then they will use the taxes to maintain the park. Or you have to default to privatization, which basically means you sell the park to a company and a company will charge an entrance fee, or maybe it's still free, but the company can put ice cream booths and, you know, sell stuff in the park.

[00:36:08] And that's how they maintain the park. Anyway, so it's like a small primer in the free rider problem, but what's interesting about Ostrom's work is that she found examples of parks and other things, commons, public goods that sustained without having centralization and without having privatization, And I was like, wow.

[00:36:36] Cause that's like Drupal, you know, there isn't really a centralized organization there isn't really like there isn't a single beneficiary, like maybe Mozilla and and, right. Or 99% of the money is made by Mozilla. And so Ostrom, she found all these examples irrigation systems in Spain that survive for hundreds of years, mountain forests in Japan.

[00:37:03] I think thrived for like 800 years and they've all been successfully self-managed and self-governance by their users. And so she actually Fabian came up with, she calls it like nine, I think it is core principles. Like she looked at all of those throughout her career and that's why she won a Nobel prize.

[00:37:23] And she studied the ones that are over a hundred years old. And some of the oldest are over a thousand years. Amazing. And she studied them all and she came up with core design principles. Like why did they actually survive? And how is it that one survived in Spain and another in Japan? And they didn't even know about each other.

[00:37:43] Right. And so it sounds like there is a bit of a playbook, but we won't find it in startups or businesses, but we may find it in some of these other common goods. Whether it's forests, parks, irrigation systems. So the one thing that's really interesting and controversial is that one of the design principles, one of the core design principles that she found is that all of the successful ones, all of them, at some point switched from an open access system to closed access system.

[00:38:21] They all said it's no longer okay for everybody to use the forest. It's no longer okay for everyone to use the park. And they had to change some of their rules. If you're going to use the park, you have to do this. If you're going to use the forest, you have to abide by these rules. I mean, you have to make a, a contribution.

[00:38:38] And I encourage you to read her book and her papers, but once you close the open access and you've put explicit rules in place, college values or principles and be very clear about how you're going to govern the common, like, how are you going to do to maintenance? How are you going to do the funding?

[00:38:56] Once you close access You can actually make a common that's owned by no one, not a government between quotes could be a nonprofit institution, like a central body. And also not by a private company, that's making money. and so the patterns are there, but we have to make some changes to how open source works, which is very tough to say.

[00:39:21] When I say that I usually get emails and angry messages because people are stuck, like with their definition of open source. And I actually believe we should think about evolving the licenses of open source. Be open-minded about it because why is the license that was created for even, I don't even know, 25 years ago, like the GPL.

[00:39:43] Is it still relevant in today's world? maybe not, you know, maybe we've learned a few things in the last 25 years that we can apply and put in a license so we can have better sustainability and scalability, sorry for it is long-winded answer. But,

[00:39:58]Fabian Franz: I think I now completely understand what you meant with blockchain earlier, because you could, for example, say that someone is contributing to software and they get credit for the, actually on the blockchain.

[00:40:11] And then if they want to use some other software and they can spend those credits on that essentially. And so if you are, for example, having a great open source project, you would. Get lots of credits for using that. And you could use those credits and again, for using Firefox, for example, like that never still be completely open access, open source like now, but it will still have this exchange of credits.

[00:40:33] And if someone has a lot of money, they would spend money, but if not, you could just contribute to some other open source project to get the credits for using Firefox, et cetera. That's a very interesting point.

[00:40:44] Dries Buytaert: Yeah. And it's, so that's a big part of it. if you look at the design principles, That Ostrom came up with.

[00:40:51] It's also like, how do you control access to the resource? but one of the big concepts is if somebody violates the rules, they have to be fined or punished. Like let's say you're happily living together and you're sharing the forest and maintaining the forest. And all of a sudden, one person who comes along that decides to not to contribute to the maintenance of the forest.

[00:41:14] Well, What she learned is if, if your commons or public good is going to survive, you have to deal with it. You cannot just accept what I call takers, people that just use without contributing, you know? and, and so that the blockchain can do actually. So when you have to have these rules and how do you punish people, how do you control access?

[00:41:36] Some of these things. So you can actually program, you know, in like smart contracts, et cetera. That makes it a lot easier because, again, these public goods that tend to be small. We all know each other. There's 40 people or 40 families using the forest. Somebody misbehaves, you rely on values and trust and maybe simple conversations to resolve it.

[00:42:00] But when you have a hundred thousand people contributing, all of a sudden you have more of like a problem, like. Your a town or city or you need like police officers, or I don't know, you know, like it gets harder to enforce rules. And I think what's compelling too, about the blockchain. It's not just the things that you said about credits and et cetera, but also maybe they can just programmatically help us you know, enforce certain rules, you know, and then it becomes a lot less.

[00:42:32] Hard to scale and a lot less emotional. I mean, it's an algorithm, but like you do this, you get that. If you don't do this, you don't get that. Or maybe it gets something else. Like a lot of this can be kind of codified. I think I'm hopeful. So I'm, you know, Will be interesting to see what will happen, but those things are really interesting to me.

[00:42:52] If anyone is watching and has like great links to share it. I love reading those works of these economists and digging into these economy. Economic systems is what I call them. But yeah, I think that's what I want to focus on, because again, it goes back to how do we solve some of these big problems with open source, scalability and sustainability?

[00:43:13] How do we build an open web? How do we get a hundred thousand people to collaborate forever on building an open web? You know, to me, that's, that's where I want to dedicate my time and efforts. And. Happy to talk about how individuals can help sustain their projects too. And maybe if it's okay, Michael, I can switch that for one second, because we just had a remarkable example in Drupal.

[00:43:41] I'm not sure of your site last week, but Matt Glaman was a long term Drupal contributor. He maintains, I think it's called is a Drupal Stan. I think it's called it's a static code analysis tool that takes code as input and generates modified code. And we basically used it to help automate some migrations, you know, convert from old APIs to new APIs, in a programmatic way. Really helped us tremendously going from Drupal 7 to Drupal 8, but even sorry, from Drupal 8 to Drupal 9, I should say. and he actually sent out a blog post where he said, you know what? I can no longer maintain this. I don't have the time. something amazing happens.

[00:44:23] Like you got some funding from individuals, one of the Drupal camps. I think it was Florida. Could be wrong. They said, we're going to take some of our proceeds and we're going to give it all to you. So you can maintain the tool, which has served the Drupal project really, really well. And so like within three or four days, some of his funding needs for the next couple of months, let's say, were fixed, but the lesson I think is.

[00:44:51] What it did is it didn't just sit there and wait for people to give money. He actually explained the problem. I will not maintain this until I get money. Here's how much money I need. Please give me money if you can. Right. It's like very simple ask, be clear about your needs and ask maybe you'll get, and I've learned this lesson too in Drupal.

[00:45:17] Like I had a PayPal button on for many, many years. And like in the five, the first five years of Drupal, maybe collected $50. Like nobody gave money, you know, but then at some point, and this is our famous server meltdown story in 2005, like we couldn't scale the website anymore on the server that we had and literally our server, you know, between quotes and melted.

[00:45:45] And what I did is I replaced every page, a little drastic, but I replaced every page on with a blank page. A PayPal button in the middle and like one or two sentences that said we need, I did some back of the envelope calculation. We need like $4,000. I think I said, we need $4,000 to buy a new kick ass server, please chip in some money. And guess what? In 24 hours, we collected $10,000 and sun Microsystems sent us a $7,000 server for free. So, and then the University of Portland, Oregon emailed me and said, if you have a server, we have a data center, basically, where you can get free electricity, free bandwidth, we have a team of students at work, you know, computer science, students that work at the university as part of their curriculum that will help you maintain the server.

[00:46:47] And so literally we didn't like one or three days had $10,000. I never had ten thousand dollars in my life. We had a $7,000 server and we had free hosting, electricity and maintenance, but the lesson is, be clear about your needs, you know, and I see so many open source contributors, not even do a good ask.

[00:47:11] I'll learn how to ask, you know, And when you ask, explain what you will do for the money and what you get in return, what will you do in return? Because it's tough to say, you want to give me some money. You can, you know, nobody or very few people are going to do that. Right. But if you say, if you give me this and here's the exact amount I will do this.

[00:47:35] And this is the value that you will get from it in roughly this timeline people will be, I believe, a hundred times more inclined to give, and you may still not get it because it's still hard to, to do, but at least your chances just skyrocketed, you know, in my opinion. And so that would be my number, piece of advice for the individual, trying to get money for their project.

[00:48:02] Michael Meyers: [00:48:02] So I'm so glad that you mentioned Matt. He is actually going to be a guest on this open source series coming up to talk about his experience and you know, everything that you mentioned. So Dries, you've been unbelievably generous with your time today. I can't thank you enough for sitting down and giving us your insights.

[00:48:21] Dries Buytaert: You're welcome. That was fun. Sorry if I talked too much.

[00:48:24] Michael Meyers: No, never, not at all.

[00:48:26] Dries Buytaert: Feel like my answers are like super long, but Hey, hopefully they were useful.

[00:48:32] Michael Meyers: It was fascinating. There are so many things. I wish it was longer. I wish we had more time. There are so many things that I wish we could talk about and we'd love to have you back at some point in the future.

[00:48:40] For everybody who's listening. Make sure that you check out the first segment of this series, a, which was growing your open source project, your contributor base, and user base, and some amazing life lessons from Dries running open source projects. we'll throw all the links that we mentioned into the show notes.

[00:48:57] If you like this, please remember to upvote subscribe and share it out with your friends. Please check out past episodes of If you have any feedback on this show or ideas for new shows, please email us at And again, Dries a huge thank you for joining us, Fabian, Kevin, thank you for helping out today with the interview.

[00:49:19] Dries Buytaert: You're welcome, and also a big thank you to Tag1 for contributing to Drupal so much. So a big thanks from me to you as well.