briantopping's Avatar


04 Aug, 2012 09:09 AM

Hi guys, I'm looking at the donations program and trying to figure out how to boost it for you as another OSS developer. I had an idea that is worth considering.

For better or worse, people respond well to goal raising when they are in a game situation. This usually equates to putting a value on common tasks. So what is the most common task? It seems to be mail, unfortunately the hardest one to support right now with all the changes required for sandboxing and the costs of doing so.

But this is a two-way street. One of the issues I have as a user is I just don't know when my recipients can accept a GPG encrypted mail. I would like to send them messages in an envelope, but the cost of doing so is high (having to look up recipient's name in a key server, etc). This lost value is something I'd easily give to developers if I could -- the "value" of those costs are expenses that nobody gains from and everyone has to bear.

Worse, long term needs (features users don't know they need) aren't as urgent as temporal needs (like Mountain Lion support), and are easily forgettable when everything "just works" over time. How can the project move from "funding because the user has immediate needs" to "funding because the project has long-term needs"?

By allowing users to sign up for donations that are based on the value of a message envelope, users may well sign up to spend more than they thought they would otherwise spend for the tools, but still be happy with that spending. For instance, if I were to decide to put a $0.05 towards every enveloped message that I were to send (about the cost of a real envelope), my cost of using the tool might be quite low because there just aren't that many people in my keychain that can accept a message in an envelope. Developers are asking "how is this possibly serviceable", but stay with me here!

In turn, developers, seeing this issue, now have great incentive to drastically increase the number of messages that can be put in an envelope in the first place. Maybe someone develops a tools to scan my old emails for matches against a key server, automatically look up emails when they are sent, etc. (I'm not advocating any one of these because I am not up-to-date with the politics surrounding automated tools, they are examples).

Regardless of the means, developers now have a vested interest in increasing the chance that a message will go out with an envelope and will tend to focus on tools that help that end. In short order, more people will have the tools, increasing the value to the user. Users spend more for their tools because of this, but they feel that they are getting more, so they are happy as well. Everyone wins.

A footnote to all of this: As it stands today, I might have three people in my keychain that I can send to, and that might not come to more than $20 in envelopes for a year if I am lucky. But I probably have a couple of thousand contacts, and if I could get 1% of them using GPG mail (or find keys for them that I didn't know existed), my $20 changes very dramatically. If I had a key for everyone, considering I write about 10-15 messages a day, that number goes up to about $20 a month. It's hard to argue that people will still donate that much money every month, but if it was more than a few dozen people donating, you guys would have money for new keyserver infra to go with paid jobs creating this stuff on a daily basis.

I know this is a big nut to crack, but it might be stuff that could be accomplished with grant money from foundations like FSF or EFF.

And of course, a world full of envelopes is a very good place.

$0.02... :-)

  1. Support Staff 1 Posted by Steve on 05 Aug, 2012 09:29 AM

    Steve's Avatar

    Hey Topping, thanks for taking the time and sharing your thoughts. Interesting idea. Another user brought a similar suggestion to our attention.

    Believe me, we are thinking about way how to spread the word further. Mail encryption is still only for a tiny fraction of users. But in the last 6 months a lot of first time users have come to GPGTools and succeeded in the setup.

    So I think we are on a good way.

    I personally don't like the idea of having to charge for every mail I want to encrypt (although it's just a tiny amount - similar to the Tobin tax for financial transactions).

    We'll have to see what the future brings. But the idea is open for discussion. Maybe others want to chime in?

    Cheers, steve

  2. 2 Posted by briantopping on 07 Aug, 2012 05:17 AM

    briantopping's Avatar

    Hi Steve,

    The other thing that might be good is to start putting these projects on Kickstarter. I'd gladly donate a tidy sum to get this fixed quickly if I knew that it was going to definitely happen, but wouldn't want to donate that much if there wasn't enough to see the project through. Kickstarter returns the money if the goal isn't reached. So just set the goal so there's enough money to finish the project. Even if you split the project into two (the first being a feasibility study).

    In regard to the Tobin Tax, it definitely would be a voluntary thing in my view. There's no way that free software should ship with a paywall. That would be as popular as a lead balloon.

    Cheers, Brian

  3. Support Staff 3 Posted by Steve on 07 Aug, 2012 02:02 PM

    Steve's Avatar

    Brian, I get what you're saying. We considered kickstarter, but all core-team members are from europe, thus no us-banking account is available, which is a condition for kickstarter.

    The existing team started working on GPGTools in summer 2010. So we have a record of over two years of getting our act together and hugely improving GPGTools. Those two years have been an insane ride and that ride will, I promise, continue!

    We've something sweet in our pipes ... but I can't talk about it just yet.

    As for the feasibility study: Everything is possible. Our biggest limitation is not skill or willingness to make things happen, but ... drumroll ... time.

    So donations are currently the best way to make GPGTools strong and allow the core-team to donate more time to this project.

    You might wanna wait for our next announcement and then decide if you want to contribute.



  4. 4 Posted by pedzsan on 12 Aug, 2012 02:01 PM

    pedzsan's Avatar

    Not trying to be negative -- I'm truly curious. But if you all have full time jobs, how do donations translate into more time?

  5. Support Staff 5 Posted by Luke Le on 12 Aug, 2012 02:07 PM

    Luke Le's Avatar

    Hi Perry,

    most of us are freelancers. So basically, if we get enough money to turn a job down which would for example last for two weeks, in that time, we can work on GPGTools instead.

    It's a very simplified explanation of course, but it should explain why more donations mean more time.

  6. Support Staff 6 Posted by Steve on 12 Aug, 2012 02:34 PM

    Steve's Avatar

    I absolutely agree with Luke on this. And we love the GPGTools project. It's challenging, interesting, we have awesome users with the most interesting minds. We'd all love to dedicate more time to GPGTools and in that regard money is the biggest limitation.

    To give you a single number: we've written over 2500 replies on this support platform since late 2011.

  7. 7 Posted by briantopping on 12 Aug, 2012 02:39 PM

    briantopping's Avatar

    I guess my point in this discussion is donations are likely to go up significantly if there was a measurable model for the use of the funds, and more funds mean more high-value projects getting completed. I'm quite sure that such a well-organized project is not misappropriating anything and even if it's not perfect, the amount of effort that has been put in will always outstrip donations in whatever window of time a measurement might be taken.

    OTOH, if there was a way for the squeamish to know what the goals are for their money OR they could "pay as they go" (more as a confidence building exercise for end users than anything), donations would increase. This isn't just true for GPGTools, it's true for any OSS project, and that's a part of why Kickstarter has been successful.

    For my part in it, I do want to contribute and am an active OSS developer myself, but have been burned by projects that never delivered on features that I contributed cash to. Of course the money was spent and won't ever come back, and in turn, I can't work on the projects that I want to work on. I don't think the developers wanted that outcome either, but by making the funding available after the funding targets have been reached (or returning it if not), there are really no plausible excuses for not getting the work done.

    This kind of accountability is key to folks with spare cash, and I'd hope that one way or another, GPGTools is able to leverage that for everyone's gain.

  8. Support Staff 8 Posted by Luke Le on 12 Aug, 2012 04:20 PM

    Luke Le's Avatar

    Sorry, I just misposted.

    I absolutely agree with everything you're saying.

    The reason why we try pushing donations at the moment instead of setting up the project on a crowd-funding platform is mainly a time issue.

    GPGMail for Mountain Lion is the most urgent matter at the moment and if we had decided to go with Kickstarter or the likes, we'd have had to invest a significant amount of time in setting up the project and the organizational stuff around that and in the worst case, wait for the goal to be achieved before starting development.

    This will absolutely make sense for the next big thing we've planned, which we'll start the planning phase for, as soon as GPGMail for Mountain Lion is completed.
    For that project we'll set up a project on a crowd-funding platform or something similar, clearly define goals, write a proper project description and everything else that's needed.

    This didn't make sense for GPGMail for ML. So the very short-time solution was to setup donations to
    compensate us a tiny bit for the development time ahead of us.
    The downside of course is, that it's not entirely clear what people are donating for and that we cannot be hold accountable.

    We'll have to find a long time solution to keep GPGTools alive and we'll sure continue to spend
    a lot of time in thinking of ways to finance it.

    Thank you again for your input, we really appreciate it!

  9. Support Staff 9 Posted by Luke Le on 12 Aug, 2012 04:21 PM

    Luke Le's Avatar

    Also, one tiny addition.
    The nice thing about donations without goal is the message they convey:
    We like what you do and wanna help keeping it going.

  10. Steve closed this discussion on 24 Aug, 2012 04:48 PM.

Comments are currently closed for this discussion. You can start a new one.

Keyboard shortcuts


? Show this help
ESC Blurs the current field

Comment Form

r Focus the comment reply box
^ + ↩ Submit the comment

You can use Command ⌘ instead of Control ^ on Mac