Of bounties, donations and summers of code influence on volunteer participation

Stuff like the Google Summer of Code, the GNOME Women’s Summer Outreach Program 2006, the Sourceforge donations system, or Dunc-Tank (an experiment to see how targeted fund raising can improve Debian) are generally considered a good ideas. However, experiments have shown that sometimes, paying volunteers decreases the overall participation. Luis Villa wrote about this a few months ago, and summarized like this:

When people do things for their own intrinsic goodness (i.e., for reasons other than payment), introducing payment can reduce the amount of invovement.

I urge you to read Luis Villa’s blog entry about this, and specifically the Motivation Crowding Theory: A Survey of Empirical Evidence paper.

Update (22/09) :

The point of this blog entry was “You should read this, it could help you make your own opinion about this stuff.”, not “Dunc-Tank bashing.”.

About Dunc-Tank specifically, I don’t think that it desserves all the criticisms it has gone through recently, because :

  • It is an experiment. Its results will be discussed (I hope), and will help to better understand the consequences of such projects. Also, I like the fact that this experiment is taking place with Debian, because Debian hasn’t been the most innovative project lately.
  • It has limited scope: it’s only about paying two Release Managers for one month each, so it is unlikely to break totally the social dynamics of Debian. it’s not as if it was paying 400 people from 40 organizations without thinking too much about the social issues involved.
  • The team running Dunc-Tank is probably one of the best possible teams for this. Breaking Debian is probably very low on their priority list ;)

However, I would be more comfortable with Dunc-Tank if it’s goal was “Experiment the effects of fund raising on Debian”, and not “Pay developers to release etch in time” (dunc-tank.org doesn’t say this, but some articles in the press do .)

One remaining issue is: is paying the RMs the best way to experiment fund raising ? I have no opinion about that, mostly because I don’t know how the Release Team works internally.

Disclaimer: I am not a DD, so I haven’t read the debian-private@ thread about that.

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