Gittip: New, Interesting, Important

Great possibilities, solid direction

Gittip is a service for donating money to people (initially, open source developers, but could be for anyone) with no strings attached. Just keep being awesome. It's being lead by Chad Whitacre. While the service is still a few months old, folks seem to be using it and deriving benefit. All successful markers for the system.

How it works

Donations made through gittip are anonymous in that recipients don't know who is giving them the money. This is meant to facilitate the idea that the money isn't for any particular work. This isn't "because you fixed that bug I had" or "so you WILL fix that bug I have". It's meant as ongoing encouragement for doing good things. The ongoing portion of this is rather important. This isn't a tip in the sense that it is a one-time payment. You allocate some amount of money (1, 3, 6, 12, or 24 USD) to be paid out weekly to a person.

This concept of decentralized payments providing is actually quite interesting from both a financial prospective and in what, if widely adopted, it means for society. Financially speaking, this would eventually lead to us to something approaching the patronage system of antiquity. One of the major differences in this system is that it is funded by the artists themselves! Societally, I'd like to think about a group who makes tools for the rich (entrepreneurs) and is rewarded for their efforts (you pay some modest amount for each component of your open source stack). This is all rather idyllic. In practice, I'm not sure how it will work out. Raving success, or fizzle? Time will tell.

Meeting Chad

I met Chad due to his being in Portland for XOXO. Our prior interaction was limited to a single tweet exchange between him, me and Jesse Noller. Chad mentioned he'd be in town and set organized some tentative plans. My future-wife did a bit of looking into Chad and gittip and we had a really interesting discussion about what exactly an Open Company is and how it would work in practice. An open company, if you're not familiar, is one in which the employees draw no salary, the source code of such a company is completely open source. The differentiator between an employee and an open source contributor is merely that of access; an employee has rights to the database and server farm.

Meeting Chad late one evening outside of XOXO was quite interesting. He, Tracy and I shared a beer, talking about gittip and the direction he thought it would go, how it was going thus far. All in all, quite positive. At one point in the evening, we were looking for a place to sit. Seeing a fellow sitting by himself, Chad made nice and sat near him including him in our conversation. He was a food vendor and not technical in the least. While there was nothing out of the ordinary about the man, it wouldn't have occurred to me to say Hi or introduce myself. The conversation wasn't particularly interesting, but that's not really the point. The small gesture of including some random guy really underscored for me the sort of manner Chad is taking with both his lifestyle and what he's trying to do with gittip. It's a message of inclusion, joining with our fellow humans in a pursuit of something kinda unique.

My experience with Gittip

I logged in to gittip after my meeting with Chad to see how things were going. After what amounts to a vanity search, I realized I had $13.00/wk waiting on me. Crazy town! Some questions ran through my head.

Is this a mistake? Maybe this is one of those "You could potentially have won $13.00" things. I remember as a child sprinting the 0.5 miles of my driveway with a letter in my hand reading "You have just won $1 million dollars!" and while I was ecstatic, but in for a big disappointment. Turns out, that as best I can tell, this is totally legit.

My next question was "Who are these people?". Gittip doesn't tell you who your donors are. While keeping these things a secret makes a fair amount of sense, I had no visibility into this $13. Was it 13 people giving me $1 each? Or was it one guy for $13? I filed an issue on the topic, but due to the denominations gittip operates in, it had to be at least 2 different individuals. The goal of that issue is to know how diversified my income stream from gittip is. If it's 13x$1, my income is less likely to dramatically fluctuate over time. If it's 1x$12 + 1x$1, I could lose 12/13ths of my gittip income at the drop of a hat.

Okay, well then "What do they want from me?" I do a few things: a few screencasts on vim, some putting about in the Django community, some writing like this one, and a few other things here or there. Which of these things are the reason people feel compelled to give me money? I want to do more of that. The reason for this is two fold: One, money is money. More importantly, however, if someone is willing to give me "real dollars" for doing something I do.. it obviously provides some value to them (or they just really hate money). If it makes people happy, I'd really like to keep doing it.

Why I think this matters

So by now you know that gittip is pretty new and also interesting, but why should you care? Well, I think gittip offers us an out from the day-to-day "grind" (which is hard to say when you like your job). I'd like to retire someday (hopefully earlier than most), but I don't really expect to ever stop writing software. It just feels too good having users who use and even like the thing that you've built. When I see gittip, I see a future in which I can subsist on the generosity of those users who like the things I've built. I don't want to start a startup (yet?) and deal with seed funding rounds and hiring folks or firing them. I just want to write code and I want people to be happy as a result. If I can do that directly to the consumer (developers being the likely candidates in my case), well then all the better. I'd much rather some number of folks pay me for being awesome directly than to also have to fund an entire company worth of overhead just to get the same effect. Cheaper for them and a happier me. I think this is gittip that I'm dreaming of when I see that $13/wk.

Where I'd like to see gittip go

I think one of the big challenges facing gittip is going to be getting the international community on board. I think we Americans have a bad habit of building tools for us because "i18n is hard" or "I don't know how payments work in Germany or Estonia". While I admit that I know less than others about this sort of thing, there is a giant audience who can also benefit from this. Having critical mass for gittip is going to be quite important for it as a platform. Shrugging and saying "We'll worry about Europe/Asia later" seems really undermining for the idea.

Eric Holscher called for building a positive community around Portland. I am not only behind this but I'm interested in making it happen. I think gittip seems like a really cool way to fuel this community. While I don't think these folks need to be paid for involvement in a community, mutual, monetary "thank yous" being spread around doesn't seem bad either. Doesn't this all seem a little reminiscent of the hippie culture in the 1960's? I, for one, don't consider that a bad thing.