Making money with open source, etc.

Posted on by Matthias Noback

So, here's a bit of a personal blog post for once.

Symfony trademark policy

I saw this tweet:

Meaning: "Following a formal notice, I removed the tutorials that are related to Symfony from the Site. There will be no future videos on the Framework."

I got mad. I had heard of other people having trouble with Sensiolabs' trademark policy and I once had difficulty getting permission to use "Symfony" in my "Hexagonal Symfony training tour" (which became the "Hexagonal Architecture training tour"). So I tweeted about it:

I thought it would be good to speak up. It's a really scary thing to do anyway. It's not in my nature to voice criticism publicly like this. I know that doing so will make things harder, and close certain doors.


However, not long after the initial tweet by @grafikart_fr, Fabien Potencier (lead maintainer of Symfony) tweeted:

And also:

This made me feel really bad about myself. I don't want to play a part in someone's sad day. Of course.

As you know I’ve always been a big fan of Symfony and Fabien's work on it. I have learned a tremendous amount of things from using it, documenting it and creating open source tools for it. So: dear Fabien, I'm sorry for my act of public shaming. It isn't good style.

Here's the lesson I'm trying hard to learn in my life: voicing criticism isn't equal to saying that everything you are, do or create sucks. In fact, my girlfriend warns me about this when she gives me feedback and I "cringe": "I'm not saying that your personality sucks, I love you, don't forget that." I think that this somehow applies in this situation too. Fabien, please don't feel rejected.

Earning money with open source

An interesting perspective on this topic was brought up Jordi Boggiano:

It was interesting because I didn't consider it to be relevant at first. It has never occurred to me that Fabien didn't earn enough money to justify all his open source work. Well, maybe he has, but that doesn't matter. Working on open source and earning money with that is something that's rather hard to accomplish. Examples of these are Jordi's own experiences with maintaining Composer. And I can very much relate to this too. Many people, including rich people, and many companies, including very successful ones, assume they can demand a lot of free work from open source maintainers. Starting to ask money for essentially the same thing, is often met by outrage (or silent neglect), so it's really hard to run an "open source" business.

For the past few months I've been trying to pick up what you could call my "master plan". I hope to organize workshops and do freelance programming jobs, thereby financing all the unpaid "open source" work that I love to do, like blogging, speaking at meetups and conference, and open source programming. I've learned two things already:

  1. You can't take it for granted that people will pay you for work you've always done for free (like book writing, or organizing workshops).
  2. You need to sell yourself and your products. Marketing is very important.

Marketing is also very annoying, and personally I'm just way too modest to keep throwing commercial messages at my audience. It's quite a personal victory to even show a banner for my new book on my blog. I know though, that in order to do all this free work, I need to sell stuff too, so I hereby assume that you'll understand that I'll do a little bit more work in the future to properly market my products.


What I'm saying is that I totally get that being lead maintainer of an open source framework (or package manager, etc.), and trying to compensate somewhat for everything you've given away for free, can be very difficult. And I totally understand that the Symfony trademark needs to be protected too. The Symfony brand has been carefully cultivated. I just hope that Sensiolabs will be more careful about dismissing some - I think - proper uses of the Symfony trademark and logo. I assume they will, based on what Fabien already tweeted tonight:

PHP Symfony Symfony open source