Beehive Organization of a Free and Open Source Community

 In general, both businesses and people alike seem not to understand how an open source project is managed / organized. The fact that there is no company 'owning' the product, doesn't mean the project cannot be controlled. In this blog we are going to discuss how to start and maintain an open source project, and why we make an analogy with a beehive. 

Setting up the project

To start up the project, you need to make a few descisions.
Choose your project idea

Start by identifying what problem you want to solve or what need you want to address with your project. Make sure it aligns with your skills, interests, and available resources.

Define project scope
Clearly define the goals, objectives, and requirements for your project. This will help you stay focused and ensure that everyone involved understands the purpose of the project.

Choose a license
Select an appropriate open-source license to protect your intellectual property rights while allowing others to use, modify, and distribute your work freely. Popular licenses include MIT, Apache, and GNU General Public License (GPL).

Set up version control
Use a version control system like Git or Mercurial to manage your project's codebase. This will allow you to track changes, collaborate with others, and maintain different versions of the software. Create a repository on a hosting platform such as GitHub, Bitbucket, or GitLab.

Develop your project
Start coding and building your project according to the defined scope and requirements. Regularly commit your code to the version control system to keep track of changes.

Documentation and testing
Write clear documentation for your project, including instructions on how to build, run, and test it. Also, create automated tests to ensure that your code is working as expected.

Create a website or wiki
Set up a website or wiki where users can find information about the project, its purpose, usage guidelines, documentation, and contact details for the development team. Use platforms like GitHub Pages, ReadTheDocs, or Wikis to host your content.

Engage with the community
Reach out to potential contributors, users, and supporters through social media, online forums, mailing lists, or IRC channels. Encourage feedback, suggestions, and bug reports from the community to improve your project.

Release your project
Once you're satisfied with the quality of your code and documentation, release it under your chosen open-source license. Announce the release on your website, social media, or relevant forums to attract users and contributors.

Continuously maintain and update
Regularly update your project based on user feedback, bug reports, and new features. Respond promptly to issues reported by users and merge pull requests from contributors. Keep your documentation up-to-date as well.

Funding of the project

The funding of a foss project is connected to the sustainability, cause money...

To start an open source project often means there's no money to start the project. It's a community initiative, with zero to no investments. People from the community basically invest in time. When the Free and Open Source Software product is finished, it's time to make money, right? First we have to discuss the fact, that there are people in the foss community, who get allergic reactions to everything what has to do with money.  Like there are people who are against asking money for educational purposes, there are people against any form of financial compensation for writing software. Most successful foss projects need professional support to stay successful and sustainable. There are a few ways foss organizations can earn some bucks, let's discuss them. 

Encourage users and supporters to donate money directly to the project through platforms like Open Collective, GitHub Sponsors, or Patreon.  Projects like Thunderbird, solely run on donations. Donations are most suited for applications where the clients are private persons and not companies. To get a healthy organization out of funding, you need time to be able to predict the amount of money that comes in. 

Launch a crowdfunding campaign on platforms such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or GoFundMe to raise funds for specific project goals, like hiring developers, improving infrastructure, or releasing new features. The problem with crowdfunding is, that none of these platforms are foss themselves, so how does this fit with the foss philosophy when the crowd funder is going to sell your supporter's data? 

Services and Consultancy
Offer professional services related to your open-source project, such as custom development, training, support, or consulting. This will generate income. Still to stay true to the foss philosophy the add-ons should be available for the entire community.

Affiliate Marketing and Advertising
Incorporate affiliate marketing links or ads in your documentation, website, or newsletters. You'll earn a commission from sales generated through these links without affecting the open-source nature of your project.

Merchandise Sales
Sell merchandise like t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and other items featuring your project's logo or artwork to generate income. Use platforms like Spreadshop, Teespring, or Redbubble for easy setup and fulfillment.

Training and Workshops
Organize training sessions, workshops, or online courses related to your open-source project. Charge a fee for attendance or access to the course materials.

Collaborate with Companies
Partner with companies interested in supporting or integrating your project into their products or services. You can receive funding, resources, or access to new markets through these collaborations without compromising the open-source nature of your project.
So we discussed several ways you can make money with an open source project, still there need to be some sort of official organization. 

Governance of the project

The first real governance decision is an important one.  Who or what will be the owner of the open source product? Who or what will be mentioned as the owner in the chosen foss license?, if that is applicable? In some licenses an owner is mentioned, in others the default license is included in the version control page. What is the organization which is going to be sued in the case of license infringement?  What organization is responsible for damages? You really don't want that as a private person. The choice you have in this case is also dependent on the laws of the country, you or the organization will be residing. In most countries you basically have a few options, become a company or become some a sort of organization, like a club or a foundation.  This is of course an important decision, as it is defining for the future of the product and the community. What kind of organization you choose is important, and you should get info from a local advisor, which model suits best for your goals.  As rule of thumb, the foss community likes organization types, like foundations better than companies. But because of possible legal repercussions, you don't want to do this as a private person.  Which choice you make, you will be probably one of the Queen bees in the Hive. To set up the organization, you need to make additional decisions:

Establish decision-making processes
Define how decisions will be made within the project. This can involve consensus-based decision-making, majority voting, or a leader with final authority. Document these processes in your governance documentation.

Create roles and responsibilities
Identify key roles needed for the project's success, such as maintainers, developers, documenters, community managers, and release managers. Clearly define their duties, expectations, and decision-making powers.

Establish communication channels
Set up communication platforms like mailing lists, forums, or chat rooms where contributors can discuss ideas, report issues, and collaborate on the project. Make sure these channels are accessible to everyone involved in the project.

Develop a code of conduct
Create a code of conduct that outlines expected behavior within the project community. This helps maintain a healthy and inclusive environment for all participants.

Establish contribution guidelines
Provide clear instructions on how contributors can submit pull requests, report bugs, or propose new features. This includes formatting requirements, testing procedures, and documentation standards.

Create an issue tracking system
Set up a bug tracker or task management tool to keep track of reported issues, feature requests, and other tasks related to the project's development.

Implement version control and continuous integration
Use a version control system like Git or Mercurial for managing code changes and collaborating with others. Also, set up automated tests and continuous integration tools to ensure that new contributions don't break existing functionality.

Document governance rules
Clearly document your project's governance structure, including decision-making processes, roles, responsibilities, communication channels, contribution guidelines, code of conduct, and issue tracking systems. Share this information on your project's website or wiki for easy access by all contributors.

The Beehive

But why the analogy with a beehive? And not with a Bazaar? (Raymond, Eric 1997). While I like the principle of the Bazaar idea, it just doesn't seem very organized. The Bazaar is full of independent merchants. This, while a Beehive, is organized by a few queen bees. Someone in the organization have to make the final calls, or control the voting system. It's our opinion that the beehive just is a better analogy, especially when the product is controlled by a foundation. A Beehive has a very flat structure, more or less of two organization levels, the queens and the bees. The most companies often have more levels of organization. 
When the project is controlled by a company, the Cathedral model is applicable, which is further not discussed in this blog. 

Sustainability of the project

The sustainability of the project is not only about funds. The way of funding we discussed in previous sections of this blog. Sustainability is more how tow keep your community healthy. It's a simple fact that not everybody has the same level of enthusiasm for the project, and you cannot predict, nor want to influence, the life of people in the project. The fact is that some bees will leave the hive.  Needless to say, you need some ways to find new bees. One of the best options is to partner up with a foss educator like OpenSource Science (OS-SCi), let students contribute to your project and do internships. While creating enticement with the students, you have a fantastic opportunity to let them join the Hive. 

EEE Embrace Extend Exterminate misuse of foss communities