Could Your Project Use $5000?

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 31, 2008

 Before you get all excited, we're not giving away $5000. But someone else did, and this is the story of what happened with the money. You see, back in April .NET blogger Jeff Atwood donated $5000 of his ad revenues to the ScrewTurn Wiki project, to use however they wished. He recently followed up and discovered that the money had been used for ... nothing.

Not that it was frittered away: rather, the ScrewTurn Wiki maintainer had already managed to cover his hosting costs, and had been unable to think of any other good use for the money. So, he was just letting it sit in the bank for now. Jeff was distressed by this outcome:

I was crushingly disappointed to find out the $5,000 in grant money has been sitting in the bank for the last four months, totally unused. That's painful to hear, possibly the most painful of all outcomes. Why did we bother doing this if nothing changes?

His conclusion: "contributing money isn't an effective way to advance an open source project."

Jeff's commenters have taken some issue with this conclusion, and it's probably fair to say that you can't generalize from one data point (especially in the .NET world, where open source tends to be less vibrant than elsewhere) to an overall principle. And the comments are worth a look to see the brainstorming that folks are doing over the best use of the money (though the developer of the software in question hasn't weighed in yet).

But the question remains: if someone gave you $5000 to spend on an open source project where you're the lead, what would you do with it? Do you have barriers to success that money would remove? If so, is $5000 enough to make a difference, given that it's not a "quit your job" level of cash for most developers? Could you pay for marketing, graphics, documentation? Or would you be best off spending the money on pizza or letting it sit in the bank?