GitHub Is Part of the Creator Economy, Just That It Won’t Pay

Creators are no longer just a part of the industries—they are the new economies.

“Creation, creation, creation—the next ten years is going to be as much about creation as it is about consumption and the community around it, so it’s not creating alone,” Nadella told Bloomberg in March 2021.

We are at the point in the economy where becoming an established creator is one of the most desired jobs. But it is hard to earn a living solely from platforms like Spotify, Twitch and YouTube. For example, an artist on Spotify would need about 300,000 streams per month to earn the federal minimum wage. According to SignalFire, 97.5% of YouTubers’ income falls below the US poverty line. Moreover, the global creative market has grown significantly to $104 billion.

In the developer’s domain, GitHub is like Spotify, building a billion-dollar business while handing over some pennies to its creators.

Every developer has probably heard all about (and most likely used) GitHub, a repository hosting service. GitHub redefines a lot of things. From how people share and communicate knowledge through building their code to how people started seeing the clouds.

GitHub stars won’t pay your rent

People don’t make money off of open-source software (OSS). At least not directly. OSS is not the best option unless you have a clear strategy of monetizing it.

GitHub has the upper hand over other competing funding services in the domain. However, this also raises concerns about the service’s influence on project development.

Some developers don’t want to feel pressured to keep sponsors happy and prioritize their feature requests or bug reports. The time they spend on GitHub is driven by passion, providing labor for free and working on things for their merit—not solely their monetary value. This may drive developers to focus on projects that are more likely to attract financial contributions than challenging ones that aren’t likely to find financial supporters.

Let’s be honest; it all comes back to money. You may be the greatest songwriter ever to live, but your career will only last a short time unless you can pay your rent and feed yourself.

Moreover, centralization and lock-in are risky for the community. GitHub is Microsoft, and regardless of the sponsorship services, it will be difficult for them to be independent.

Research shows that while the impact of sponsorship is not always clear, and some sponsors were left disappointed that their donations did not have the intended effect, most sponsors contribute as a token of appreciation and in recognition or for the good of the open source community.

Fair exchange of value (?)

There are several ways to contribute to open source, such as bug reporting and fixing, adding features, writing documentation, triaging issues and discussions, design, marketing, and more. One of the ways to contribute is through financial support. In 2019, GitHub got into sponsorships, which operate similarly to Patreon’s recurring tipping model. It allows people to financially support to create and maintain the open source project they depend on directly on GitHub.

The mission, according to GitHub, is to “expand the opportunities to participate in and build on open source”.

Developers can set up multiple sponsorship tiers with benefits that the developer can set themselves too. In many ways, it is similar to Twitch streamer, for example, with monthly payments and special benefits depending on how much one pays.

Taking the concept further, in 2022, GitHub introduced a set of sponsor-only repositories. These are a set of private repositories that only sponsors will get access to.

Now, developers and companies can reward and incentivise sponsors by giving them exclusive access to a private repository. Platforms play a major role that these content creators use to build their audiences. People who are in engineering jobs are the ones who are handling the development of these technologies.

In conclusion, GitHub has been embraced by every second coder across the globe, but most developers make zero money off open source. GitHub sponsor does come into the picture, but being solely dependent on it is risky. The GitHub stars do look very good on the resume but won’t help one put food on the table.

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