Supporting Software Freedom with Your Time through Conservancy
byon May 7, 2020
The current global pandemic has affected everyone, but the experience of essential workers couldn't be more different from the experience of remote tech workers. Even within tech, many people have found themselves with no free time at all while they work to balance child-rearing, care-giving and remote work, while some of their friends, siblings and peers have found that they suddenly have a lot of extra time.
This post is for free software enthusiasts who find themselves with extra time. Conservancy and its member projects have a variety of different ways that you could meaningfully volunteer your time -- remotely, of course.
Translation is great way to help spread free software. MicroBlocks needs help with translation to help them make their fun projects available to more new coders, all over the world. The contact email is: firstname.lastname@example.org. Etherpad, a key tool for remote collaboration, is also currently seeking translation help.
In a few weeks, we will need help with some of the bits and pieces associated with our upcoming migration to Bean Count. Moving ten years of financial records is a big undertaking. Folks who are python savvy and/or have experience with Bean Count should drop us a note at email@example.com with "Bean Count Help" in the subject.
Many of our projects could use more technical volunteers, here are two that have nice specific lists of tasks they could use help with. Reproducible Builds has a handy list of technical tasks that they could use help with on their site. Inkscape has a thorough list of both coding (and non-coding) tasks that they could use help with on their site.
Compliance is more important than ever. As more and more people come to rely on their digital devices and applications, we want to ensure that these tools empower, rather than spy on, the user. Compliance is big part of how we make sure there is source code that folks can examine -- and alter if necesary.
At a high level, this is how Conservancy's compliance process works:
- People like you tell us about products or services they use where the source code for GPLed parts isn't provided or is incomplete
- We investigate and contact the company if we can't find complete build and installation instructions
- We work with the company to get the complete source - in rare cases we file a lawsuit (only when all other avenues fail)
We're specifically interested to hear from people who are able to check their devices (TVs, smartphones, tablets, et.c) to see if they contain any GPLed software. Here's how to do that:
- If you think the device uses Linux, BusyBox, Android, etc., or the manual mentions "open source" then ask the manufacturer for source code
- If they don't reply, or refuse to provide it, please report this to us
- Or, if you can't build their source code or install the result on your device for some reason, let us know
- We will start the process to resolve it (so you can get the source!), following up in a few days
We're always interested in talking to FOSS-savvy folks who want to write for our blog. A robust free software movement includes lots of voices. Some topics we'd like to see include; stories about driving free software adoption at your work or school, ways to improve governance or work-flow at community-driven free software projects, how your company embraced copyleft or sharing strategies for growing and/or diversifying free software communities. If writing about free software sounds exciting to you, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with "Guest Blogging" in the subject.
Some of our projects have also put out calls for help with writing. Selenium could use help answering questions, writing documentation, and updating information on their website. Inkscape has a thorough list of both non-coding (and coding) tasks that they could use help with here.
This one's a little specialized, but if you are at all familiar with the grant space or are interested in learning, we could use some help identifying grant application opportunities. If that sounds like your wheelhouse, then please email us at email@example.com with "Grant Research" in the subject.
Thanks for considering volunteering your time to support software freedom!
Videos From The Past and Upcoming Virtual Appearances
byon April 27, 2020
We've got a handful of videos from free software events that took place earlier this year and then two upcoming online appearances with different communities.
Videos From Before Shelter-in-place
Bradley and Karen both attended linux.conf.au, a fantastic, long-running community conference that was held at Australia's Gold Coast in January. Bradley Kuhn, our Policy Fellow and Hacker-in-Residence gave a tutorial on the GNU General Public License, version 2 aimed at helping folks participate knowledgeably in both internal and external licensing conversations, "Introduction to Linux's License." Karen Sandler, our Executive Director co-presented with Bradley on the challenges of being a FOSS Activist, "Open Source Won, but Software Freedom Hasn't Yet: A Guide & Commiseration Session for FOSS Activists."
On the day before FOSDEM, Deb Nicholson, our Director of Community Outreach keynoted CHAOSSCon in Brussels. Her presentation, "Ethics: What You Know & What You Don't Know" is about biases, pre-conceptions and how to work though them when you're building and optimizing free software communities.
SCaLE (aka the Southern California Linux Expo), a large FOSS community conference, was held in early March. Vagrant Cascadian is one of the lead developers working on Reproducible Builds and he gave a talk titled, "There and Back Again, Reproducibly!" Reproducible Builds is a Conservancy member project that works on a process to create an independently verifiable path from source code to the binary code. Want to learn how it works and why you might want it for your free software project? Then you should definitely check out this talk.
Upcoming Remote Appearances
GNOME is hosting a social hour on the first Friday of every month at 16:00 UTC. The special guest on May 8th will be Deb Nicholson, our Director of Community Outreach. She'll be talking about "Roadmapping and Finding People" which is a talk about planning and delegating for community-driven free software projects.
Deb is also giving a remote talk at Open Source 101 on May 12th, titled Software Licensing and Compliance: It’s All About Community." Tune in at 4:00 PM EDT (20:00 UTC) to catch it live.
Software Freedom Work During the Pandemic
byon April 21, 2020
Most of us have already gotten many, many emails talking about how fast food chains, companies that sell sweatpants and soap makers are "here for you" especially, "in these troubled times." Some of those are heartfelt emails assuring you that their company is making donations to non-profits or that they are really, really, washing everything. Non-profits, while we are also "here for you" especially, "in these troubled times" generally have more to do during a crisis so we've been focusing on our work while going a bit light on our marketing.
Conservancy's communities have responded to the global pandemic in several ways. Firstly, we are all grateful for the global, remote free software community -- particularly as many key events are being cancelled or transforming into online experiences. Many of us are looking at how to better serve the people who count on us, either by improving the tools we offer or our support, or both. Here's a sampling of what our projects are doing during the pandemic.
Etherpad recently rolled out video support. It was already in the works, but it couldn't be more timely as many, many more people look for remote collaboration tools that respect their freedom. We've tried it out with as many as six people and you get a collaborative space for document editing (minutes, statement, shared story, etc.) as well as a sidebar with everyone's faces reacting in real time — very nice!
Conservancy also houses three (3!) version control systems. There's never been more demand for efficient tooling to manage remote, asynchronous collaboration. Git, Darcs and Mercurial are ready to help you work together, remotely.
Common Workflow language has been participating in biohackathons, more information on that work can be found here.
Outreachy provided remote paid internships to work on free and open source software, inviting anyone who faces under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country to apply. The pandemic has exacerbated societal inequities such that people who have stable tech jobs are able to weather this crisis from the safety of their homes, while less resourced people are forced to choose between having an income and safety from the virus. And of course, it's not a great time to look for intro-level opportunities, let alone remote ones that could lead to a career with working on free software. Outreachy is looking to provide as many internships as possible in the coming May round to help bring more opportunities to marginalized people when they're needed most. Additionally, Outreachy has lowered the hours requirement for interns and mentors, to make the intership more accessible to those who have additional care-giving or just increased emotional overhead during the global pandemic. Outreachy typically has provided a travel stipend to interns. Because travel is no longer safe or recommended, the Outreachy team has decided to officially cancel all travel and pay all outstanding travel stipends, which they hope will help their alumns cope with this difficult time. The Outreachy team could use your help -- making the upcoming round bigger will be tough while some funding sources are contracting. We encourage companies to sponsor Outreachy interns, and anyone whose financial situation is not impacted by the current crisis to make an individual donation.
LibreHealth and Qemu are both mentoring Outreachy interns who will get paid to work on free software, remotely (as always) this summer. Boost, Coreboot, Godot, Inkscape, Qemu, Sugar Labs, Wine and Xapian are all taking part in Google Summer of Code -- another critical remote internship opportunity that brings new people in to the free software community. Disasters tend to exacerbate the impact of existing inequalities, making things hard for newcomers. Mentoring new free software contributors, and paying them while they work and learn, is more important than ever.
Control Over Our Computing
Many folks have been trying to get work or school software functioning on their home computers for the first time this past month and are newly grateful for the important interoperability bridges that Homebrew and Wine maintain. Wine just released updates and bug fixes a week ago, while we've been working with Homebrew to ensure that their paid contractors are well-supported with proper hardware during lockdown.
As we incorporate technology more intimately into our lives, with networked devices being a lifeline to work, school, friends and family, it's never been more important to make sure we control the technology we rely on. Our team is also continuing to work on GPL compliance, making sure that companies who use copylefted software keep up their end of the deal. Having access to source code and being able to modify the software on our devices can help us limit surveillance and other predatory behavior by companies who know that their customers have little choice if they want devices that provide a lifeline in this difficult time.
Finally, it can't always be all about work. As we enter the *second* month of lockdown in many places, video games are providing an important escape for people who are staying at home. Godot helps folks create new games without having to worry about proprietary licenses. With Conservancy's help, the Godot team has been using community driven funding to make Godot better and better.
We hope you're keeping well and staying healthy!
Fundraising Remotely: Increasing your Chances of Success
byon April 2, 2020
Controlling the technology we use is especially important during "lockdown" because non-digital work and communication options may no longer be available or safe. Some free software projects are serving exponentially more users during this pandemic than they've ever previously seen. Meanwhile, people are depending more heavily on their remote gigs, so it's essential that we keep paying the developers who maintain and improve the software we're all using. Conservancy wants to make sure that freedom-respecting, community-driven software projects can keep up with demand and continue their important work.
Many of us in tech are lucky that we can work remotely, without too much being very different on the work side. However, many projects will need to adjust their fundraising. This year's season of casual, in-person at-a-conference funding asks just won't be happening. We'll be doing all of our corporate and large donor fundraising via phone, video call or email for at least the next several months.
One of the things about in-person conversations is that you get plenty of instant feedback. How excited is the donor? Are they glad that they've made time to talk to you? Does the person you're talking to feel personally invested in your software project or is this purely a business decision? (Hint: it's often a bit of both.) Without the rapport that's easy to establish in-person, you'll want to take a minute to carefully craft your email communications. It's a good idea to get on the phone or do a video call if you can, but people may be reluctant to commit their time to be asked for money. We've written up some tips to help community-driven free software projects with their remote fundraising.
Be mindful of the circumstances of the person you are contacting. Don't start your fundraising conversation as if everything were normal right now. You can't copy and paste last year's ask and expect it to be successful. Most people's lives have been profoundly affected by the pandemic and people could be dealing with sick relatives or friends, immuno-compromised co-workers who are worried about groceries or vague, but pervasive anticipatory grief. More than ever, you'll need to be courteous with people's time, be gracious about rescheduling and be prepared to hear, "Please, just put it into an email." You'll want to make your fundraising requests efficient and answer the questions your donors have -- before they have to ask them. You'll want to acknowledge that we're all going through a difficult time before you talk about anything else.
What is the donor getting out of donating?
Imagine yourself in their shoes. If you don't know the answer to this, you'll need to find out. Perhaps another person associated with your project knows your contact or used to work at the company you're approaching. Take a look at what else the company or donor has funded and how they talk about their recent donations. Maybe they've even told you themselves when they donated to your project last, saying something like, "We're always happy to help keep Linux secure. Keep up the good work!"
Is it very clear how your project will be spending its income this year?
A financial plan that is tightly coupled with your technical roadmap makes things much clearer for potential donors. If you had to explain two or three things that you are prioritizing in the coming year at say, a virtual high school reunion, how would you phrase it? You wouldn't list the libraries and discuss all the things you don't like about your API. You'd say something like, "This year we're increasing interoperability and working to better support folks running smaller instances of Foo." Then tell the donor that you're going to be paying developers to work on those two big picture goals.
Is there something you're working on that is very timely?
For example, Etherpad's collaborative editing tools now include video, so Etherpad hosts may need more tools to help them support the increased bandwidth for their all-remote teams. Is increased capacity or internationalization illuminating the need for different security measures or more translating? Whenever something very timely is part of your roadmap, be sure to mention it to your potential donors so they can choose to donate now, when their support is likely to be the most impactful.
What if some of your use cases and upcoming plans are really cool, but extremely detailed?
Make a blog post about the exciting, but wonkier, bits of what you're doing. You can easily link to these posts for donors that do want more detail. You might even find that these public posts help you find some modest donors or contributors who are interested in helping with some really specific aspects of your work. Documenting your technical challenges could help another free software project down the road with a similar conundrum. Pay it forward!
The short version is that you want to think about your work from a potential donor's perspective when you are asking for money. Be respectful of people's time and mindful of the things they may be dealing with that aren't your request. Make your case clearly and succinctly so that folks can quickly see how your work fits in with their goals. Don't make folks have to circle back with a bunch of follow-up questions, because they just might not get around to it. When you write your email, make sure you word things in a way that makes it easy for the person you are writing to simply forward the email to their boss or to someone else in the company who may have access to additional budget. Make sure there's enough brief context included so that someone else who doesn't know you or the details of the project could understand what you're talking about. Stay safe and good luck with your fundraising!
We'll be talking about this post in our online chat later today. Join us in #conservancy on freenode.net or if you don't already use an IRC client, you can come in through your browser. Just visit this page, and choose a nick (or nickname) and you'll be "in channel." Conservancy member projects are also welcome to contact our Director of Community Operations, Deb Nicholson, for project-specific help with their fundraising plans.