Software

How one company's donation model could show us a sustainable future for open source

As we look for ways to ensure open source viability, Citus Data has a novel idea for funding Postgres that just might work elsewhere.

Not everyone gets to be a One Percenter, but if Citus Data has its way, the Postgres community will get its 1%. As announced this week, Citus Data has committed to giving 1% of its equity to the two non-profit PostgreSQL organizations in the US and Europe. As with any startup, the value of that equity could one day be worth $0 or $1 billion. What's most interesting here is how Citus Data is responding to the constant questioning of how to ensure open source sustainability.

Paying for free

While this question has ebbed and flowed in terms of media coverage over the last few decades, it has surged to the front page recently with companies like Redis Labs (Commons Clause) and MongoDB (Server Side Public License) introducing new licensing approaches in an attempt to ensure the companies behind popular open source projects (Redis and MongoDB, respectively) can continue to afford to invest heavily in development. MongoDB, for example, put a number on that investment: $300 million. That's a lot of ones and zeroes.

Even as we're spoiled by incredibly innovative open source software like TensorFlow, we're also increasingly dependent on a few web giants like Google and Facebook to release that code. It's not a bad system but we continue to need a diverse array of options for funding open source development.

SEE: Software licensing policy (Tech Pro Research)

The Citus Data 1% equity grant is an interesting new model that more companies should follow.

Winning together

Citus Data isn't the first tech company to make the 1% Pledge. Salesforce, Twilio, Okta, and others have also done so. To my knowledge, however, only Citus Data has focused its 1% pledge on an open source project. As Redmonk analyst James Governor noted, this manner of promoting open source sustainability could prove "a shot in the arm for the Postgres community."

Not that this is without self-interest. After all, as Citus Data CTO and co-founder Ozgun Erdogan wrote:

[O]ur team and our company have hugely benefited from Postgres over the years. We owe a lot of our success to the PostgreSQL project and the many talented people involved. Today, we're giving back to the community that who made this project so successful.

SEE: Kubernetes: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

In the case of Citus Data, its product depends 100% on Postgres, so this makes sense. They aren't alone, however, in being heavily dependent on an open source project. While there are companies like MongoDB or Confluent that focus on a single open source project, countless enterprises could not function without Linux, Apache Cassandra, Kubernetes, or [name your favorite open source project]. Most of the time, these companies are using this code for free, contributing zero code and zero cash back.

How to give 1% will vary from company to company, but the idea of programmatically giving cash/equity/something back to the open source projects that make enterprises hum, so that they can hum even more, is a good one. Again, who knows whether the Citus Data equity will ultimately bankroll Postgres. That's not really the point. The point is that they're ensuring any future success helps to support the open source project that made it possible. You should, too.

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Image: iStockphoto/anyaberkut

About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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