Librement: a new way to help people who want to contribute to free software

Find your way in the free software worldI have this project in my head, I want to work on it but I always lack the time. In order to go forward, I thought I could write about it, at least it would let me clarify my ideas and the core goals. So here I am, I will present you Librement (I have registered the alioth project but it’s empty).

The core goal is to make it easy for every user to contribute to free software in some way. I will now present the main features that I envision.

Defining skills and interests

In order to propose tasks that the user can do, we must have an idea of his skills. So on the first run (and later through a preferences menu) the user will be invited to define his skills:

  • his native languages (multiple allowed)
  • other languages he can understand
  • programming languages he knows
  • version control systems he can use
  • markup language he knows (HTML, DocBook, Wiki-like formats, etc.)
  • etc.

Maybe we can also ask which skills he would like to learn. Because contributing to free software is a nice opportunity to learn new skills!

We should also find out what the user is interested in. What are his favorite free software projects? What kind of contributions would he like to do (documentation, translation, coding, bug fixing, bug triaging, creating artwork, donations, etc.)?

Choose activities and pick concrete tasks

Based on the user’s skills and his interests, the software shows a list of possible activities. The user can then sort that list, from the most interesting one to those that he doesn’t want to do.

Each activity can generate concrete tasks. For example, the activity “Do translation for Debian” could generate a task “Translate strings in debconf/fr.po” or “Review translations in partman/fr.po”.

Work on tasks

When the user decides to work on a task, a step-by-step assistant helps him/her. It can automate some steps and provide explanations for the remaining ones, for example in the case of a translation for Debian:

  • grab the PO file (from a VCS, from an HTTP URL, from a translation server, etc.);
  • select and install a software to work with PO file (if not already done);
  • edit the PO file with the preferred program;
  • check the PO file (is it complete? is there no mistakes like missing substitutions?);
  • send back the completed PO file in a mail to the Debian bugtracking system.

If the tasks is not completed in one go, the user can resume it the next time.

Each free software project must provide some meta-information describing the various workflows involved for contributing to the different parts of the project. If necessary the project can also provide new plugins to support new operations that are not available in the default library.

Setting goals

In order to keep the user motivated, the software could track how much time he spent contributing to free software and it could verify if the user reached the goals he picked up for himself. Maybe it can also hook into the OMG Trophy Awarding System.

The sky is the limit

I hope that you now have a clearer idea of what this desktop application is supposed to be. There are literally hundreds of ways to contribute to free software and I like the idea that we can streamline the process for most users.

All the plugins implementing activities can use local information (list of packages installed with their versions, configuration settings, etc.) to propose tasks targetted to the user and highly beneficial for the corresponding free software projects. For example, a bug tagged unreproducible might benefit from a few more users trying to reproduce it. The software could direct the user to this bug report if it detects that he/she runs the same version on the same architecture and that this software is regularly run on the system.

Many projects have created “operations” or “events” to encourage people to contribute, they could all be implemented as dedicated activities in Librement. I’m thinking of stuff like Gnome Love, Ubuntu’s 5-a-day, Ubuntu’s 100 papercuts, etc.

Even for people who have no time to contribute, the application can still be useful by referencing the various ways to donate money (or material) to projects that they are using.

Feedback welcome

I’m excited by the potential of such an application, but it’s normal since it’s my idea. Do you believe it can be useful and popular? Do you have ideas of exciting activities that such a framework can offer?

PS: If you wonder how I came up with the name “Librement”, here’s the explanation. It’s a French word which means “freely”. And users who want to give back are trying to live up to the principles of free software, which I sum up by “they are trying to live freely”.

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Social Micropayment Can Foster Free Software, Discover Flattr

Social Micropayment

Flattr LogoA social micropayment system allows you to donate a small amount of money (a few pennies/cents) to thank someone else for a good blog post, piece of music, … or for a free software that you enjoy. That’s what Flattr is all about.

How Flattr works

With Flattr, donating is as easy as a single click on a Flattr button that content providers (read “free software developers”) embed on their websites. A Flattr button is very similar to a “Digg” button or other social buttons (you can look at the end of this blog post for a sample).

The amount donated per flattr varies from month to month because you define a fixed amount of money to spend each month (minimum 2€) and it’s split evenly between all the things that you appreciated. You can flattr as much as you want, it won’t cost you more.

Support Free Software with Flattr

Free Software lacks a good business model to fund the creation of software, yet someone has to pay the time spent in writing the code. Many projects have tried to ask for donations but the amount collected rarely covers more than the expenses for the website hosting.

Flattr makes it so easy to donate that this is possibly about to change. Flattr users have to spend their monthly amount each month, otherwise it gets donated to charity. Thus if it takes off, most Flattr users will grow the habit of doing regular donations to projects that they use and appreciate.

Bootstrapping the Process

Flattr FLOSS LogoFlattr is a new service, not many projects are using it to accept donations and not many users are participating yet. But it’s growing quickly on both sides.

In order to help users who want to support Free Software with Flattr, I have started the Flattr Free and Open Source Software project. You can subscribe to a newsletter to receive a monthly reminder with recommendations of Free Software to Flattr. If you have more time, you can also browse public directories listing various Free Software projects using Flattr so that you can manually pick your favorites.

To learn more about the Flattr FOSS project, click here.

I also invite Free Software developers to setup Flattr on their websites, blogs, … and to register those sites so that Flattr users can easily find them. To learn more about this, check out the Earn a Living With Free Software page.

Share the News

Flattr can change the situation of many small but popular free software projects struggling with a single developer who started it as a hobby and who can’t afford to spend more free time on it.

But this can only happen if lots of users start using Flattr to support the Free Software that they benefit from. So share the news, tell the friends, join Flattr FOSS and give some Flattr-love every month.

Get Your Free Flattr Invite!

Flattr is still in beta, but they like Free Software a lot and have offered 30 invites for the launch of Flattr FOSS. You can get yours by subscribing either to my main newsletter or to the Flattr FOSS one. Just reply to the welcome email you get after having subscribed and ask for your invite.