Ethan Zuckerman recently wondered if it was “love or money” that drives amazing volunteer communities like the one over at global voices. Now, we are small fry compared to GV at the moment, but it’s a question that is becoming relevant to P2PU too as we continue to grow and expand globally. As I am sure you know it’s all one love at P2PU, but some of us also need to eat (and one or two people – including me – even sleep occasionally).
There are a few problems with money. One is that (at least it seems that) there is no way to pay everyone in open source projects. If Wikipedia had worked out a complicated payment mechanism for all contributions, it would most likely not have grown into the amazingly vast knowledge repository it is. Two, while it is very well possible to get paid while doing things for love, money also makes people to do things they don’t love. And we want everyone involved in p2pu to be in it for the love. However, not having money in the volunteer community also creates problems – the main one is that it keeps out those people who simply can’t afford to work for free, and often those are the ones that represent the majority of people on this planet. Pretending that everyone has the same freedom to volunteer is not just wrong, but also a strategic mistake for a global project like P2PU. So, let me wonder out loud how a volunteer community driven by love could avoid starving:
Idea 1 – A big pile of gold. What if we had a “pile” of let’s say 10,000 USD and every gang-star (gang-stars are volunteers with a long history and commitment in P2PU, think of them like module owners or similar positions in open source projects) could charge a certain hourly rate against this pile for project relevant activities that they could define relatively freely. People would simply report hours and achievements online and at the end of each month we tally up and pay out. I really have no idea if this could work – and can think of lots of potential problems (conflict between those who charge and those who work for free? who gets to say that someone is charging too much?).
Idea 2 – Check the list. An alternative would be to outline specific projects that we need done and earmark budget for them – and gang-stars can decide to take them on. that might be a little more structured and comprehensible – and maybe with less potential to lead to conflict?
Idea 3 – Make our own money. Or we could work with an imaginary currency (mullahs) and people accrue mullah’s for work they do. each month they can decide to trade mullahs for real money (1 mullah = 1 USD) or horde them for things like participation in the community meeting (1000 mullahs?).
If you know how to make money from love (as in alchemy, not roxanne) let us know and share the magic.