A couple days ago, the Roundcube Next crowdfunding campaign reached our initial funding goal. We even got a piece on Venture Beat, among other places. This was a fantastic result and a nice reward for quite a bit of effort on the entire team's part.
Reaching our funding goal was great, but for me personally the money is secondary to something even more important: community.
You see, Roundcube had been an Internet success for a decade now, but when I sat to talk with the developers about who their community was and who was participating from it, there wasn't as much to say as one might hope for such a significant project used by that many people.
Unlike the free software projects born in the 90s, many projects these days are not very community focused. They are often much more pragmatic, but also far less idealistic. This is not a bad thing, and I have to say that the focus many of them have on quality (of various sorts) is excellent. There is also a greater tendency to have a company founded around them, a greater tendency to be hosted on the mostly-proprietary Github system with little in the way of community connection other than push requests. Unlike the Free software projects I have spent most of my time with, these projects hardly try at all to engage with people outside their core team.
This lack of engagement is troubling. Community is one of the open source1 methodology's greatest assets. It is what allows for mutual interests to create a self-reinforcing cycle of creation and support. Without it, you might get a lot of software (though you just as well might not), but you are quite unlikely to get the buy-in, participation and thereby amplifiers and sustainability of the open source of the pre-Github era.
So when we designed the Roundcube Next campaign, we positioned no less than 4 of the perks to be participatory. There are two perks aimed at individual backers (at $75 and $100) which get those people access to what we're calling the Backstage Pass forums. These forums will be directed by the Roundcube core team, and will focus on interaction with the end users and people who host their own instance of Roundcube. Then we have two aimed at larger companies (at $5,000 and $10,000) who use Roundcube as part of their services. Those perks gain them access to Roundcube's new Advisory Committee.
So while these backers are helping us make Roundcube Next a reality, they are also paving a way to participation for themselves. The feedback from them has been extremely good so far, and we will build on that to create the community Roundcube deserves and needs. One that can feed Roundcube with all the forms of support a high profile Free software product requires.
So this crowdfunding campaign is really just the beginning. After this success, we'll surely be doing more fund raising drives in future, and we'd still love to hit our first stretch goal of $120,000 ... but even more vitally this campaign is allowing us to draw closer to our users and deployers, and them with us until, one hopes, there is only an "us": the people who make Roundcube happen together.
That we'll also be delivering the most kick-ass-ever version of Roundcube is pretty damn exciting, too. ;)
p.s. You all have 3 more days to get in on the fun!
1 I differentiate between "Free software" as a philosophy, and "open source" as a methodology; they are not mutually exclusive, but they are different beasts in almost every way, most notably how one is an ideology and the other is a practice.