Paying With Your Time
Nicole Engard takes that phrase that you get what you paid for with open source head on at Opensource.com. The phrase is normally used in a derogative fashion, but Nichole accepts the phrase and makes it her own by explaining how everyone benefits when you pay with your time.
In the world of standard economics, nothing is ever truly free of cost. If something is given to you for nothing, someone had to pay for it at some point along the line. In the modern, advertising based economy, If you are not paying with your money, than you are most likely paying with your personal information. Another example of would be public services, which are normally paid for with taxes. In the world of open source, the phrase is normally meant to imply that the program you are obtaining for free is of such low quality that it has little to no value. “Oh, you are having a problem with that open source app? Well, you get what you paid for!” Laughter ensues.
Nicole has a different view on the concept:
Well, with open source you can always pay to get new features written, but you also can pay with your time to improve the product. If ‘free’ can mean multiple things, so can ‘pay’. When it comes to open source, you have the freedom to improve the product and that means you can pay with your time (reporting bugs, suggesting features, writing documentation, etc), your skills (writing code, debugging software, etc), or your money, to improve the product at any time.
When you participate in open source, more than just downloading and running the app, you help make it better for everyone. Anyone can be a detractor, it’s easy to sit on the sidelines and mock those who are trying to build something good for the world, but it is much more worthwhile to spend our time, talent, and energy to make things better. After all, “it’s not the critic who counts”. Nicole agrees:
If however you just download the product and use it for free, then you don’t have the right to complain when it doesn’t do what you want.
As a writer, I’ve found myself on both sides of this fence numerous times. Sometimes when I find something so frustrating its tempting to abandon it and look somewhere else. What I struggle to remind myself is that when the process works, when we all really get open source, the applications get better, faster. We give back to something bigger than ourselves, and in giving back we become a part of it.
No matter what your skill set is, there is a place for you to participate in open source. You don’t need to be a programmer, you can be a writer, designer, or tester, or most importantly, you can be an average human trying to get things done, and report back to the community what does and doesn’t work for you. By paying with your time, everyone profits.