Donation Link: Formal Proposal

Kent James kent at
Mon Dec 2 23:07:16 UTC 2013

On 12/2/2013 1:44 AM, Mark Banner wrote:
> Hi Kent,
> On 30/11/2013 00:50, Kent James wrote:
>> I have now put a page up on the Mozilla Wiki that describes the 
>> donation link proposal:
> Thanks for putting this together. I've got a few comments, so I'll 
> just jump in with those:
> - I expect you'll head towards this anyway, but I would say generally 
> it would be better to have a clean distinct proposal separate from 
> personal feelings/suggestions.
I reread the proposal, and I don't see what you are referring to as my 
"personal feelings". If there is some specific phrase that you find 
objectionable, please specify.

As to "personal ... suggestions", this entire effort is my "personal 
suggestion" that I am trying to submit to an open process of review, 
evaluation, and approval. Once again, if there are specific areas that 
you think are too personal, please specify

> - I would certainly object to putting a donation link in the way you 
> describe. To me, having a permanently visible link on primary UI feels 
> like begging, and doesn't feel appropriate.
Rereading the proposal, it is not clear that the intent is that the link 
would disappear after the user processed the link. The "stop asking" 
option in the proposal was intended to make the link disappear until the 
next major release. Does that alleviate your concern for "permanent 
visible link"?

> Maybe I'm a bit sensitive to donation areas but having something you 
> can't get rid of without doing something (or reading something about 
> donating) doesn't sound in keeping with something that has always been 
> billed as free software.
We are asking the user to make a decision about donating each major 
release. So I would agree that this proposal moves Thunderbird away from 
being "free as in beer" software to being "free as in freedom" 
donationware. We need to think hard whether that is what we want. 
Obviously my personal opinion is that we should move that direction.  
Mitchell herself claimed to me that Mozilla does not want to subsidize 
free software for businesses. Neither do I. I am not willing to donate 
my time to the cause of free-as-in-beer software for businesses, and 
because of that I think that Thunderbird should try to recover costs 
from users in ways that still promote "free as in freedom". Donations 
are one such option, and I do not think we should be ashamed to ask for 
them. With freedom comes responsibility, and we are providing structures 
for our users to meet their responsibilities.

> I would not mind links on the start page, or in other areas e.g. the 
> about dialog.
> I would also certainly prefer to start small and increase visibility 
> gradually, as this would allow feedback and questions to be resolved 
> before pushing out to a wide audience.
If by start small you mean in beta releases, fine. But we only get this 
chance about annually, and I don't think we should wait until 2015 to 
make this decision. The formal community can say no, but this is a 
proposal for a more visible link in Thunderbird 31.

Does anyone really expect that putting a donation link on the About page 
or the start page (places that the vast majority of users never or 
rarely see) or some Facebook page will generate the multiple hundreds of 
thousands of dollars that Thunderbird needs to be relevant? I certainly 
don't. Why waste a year doing an experiment that we all expect to fail?

Yes we will receive some flak for this. But what is in the best interest 
of Thunderbird users? I don't believe it is in the best interest of 
Thunderbird users to protect ourselves from the flak we will get from 
"free as in beer" advocates at the expense of denying our users the 
innovation and stability that additional funding will provide. The 
Thunderbird community should make decisions on this proposal considering 
primarily Thunderbird user's best interests.

> - Hiring Contractors. I didn't get around to saying this earlier, but 
> I think this may be difficult to do in a fair manner, unless you go 
> for people who have never contributed to Thunderbird, as otherwise 
> there could be significant bias in who gets selected.

Restricting contractors to those who "have never contributed to 
Thunderbird" is a really bad idea, and about the most unfair thing you 
could do. The goal here to empower some leadership within Thunderbird 
that can move the project forward, not to simply "fairly" distribute 
inadequate resources to existing Thunderbird contributors.  You 
yourself, as I understand it, started as a volunteer contributor. Do you 
think it would have been a good idea to deny you employment on that 
basis? Why restrict Thunderbird to more strict rules than Firefox or 
Mozilla as a whole? If anything, I would welcome a bias in favor of 
existing volunteer contributors.

I do agree that this is a sensitive topic that needs to be handled well, 
else the Thunderbird community could find existing volunteers 
dis-empowered. But this is an issue faced by virtually every non-profit 
with a mix of paid staff and volunteers, so there are well understood 
ways of managing it.

My list of suggested uses of funds will not survive the first meeting of 
the "Finance and Operations" group who will make their own decisions 
regardless of this list. The goals of the list is 1) answer the question 
"Why does Thunderbird need money at all"? and 2) make it clear that this 
plan is not subject to the restriction of "... paid-for development 
should not be considered. Instead, contributions of development 
resources should be encouraged" that occurred in the original "New 
Release and Governance Model" document (albeit in a slightly different 
context). I realize this is likely to be controversial. You seem to be 
arguing against supporting developers. BenB seems to argue that this 
should be the main focus of donations. The proposal states, as I feel it 
should, that this is one of several possible uses. It is clearly the one 
though that is capable of consuming several hundred thousand dollars per 
year, should such funds be available.

(Just for the record, I cannot currently foresee circumstances in which 
I myself would be a contractor under this proposal, Mesquilla is much 
more likely to be a net contributor than a net benefactor here. I am no 
longer an independent volunteer contributor.)

> - " Support for ongoing expenses of possible server-based innovations" 
> - I think this may be better described as "Support for external 
> projects directly related to Thunderbird innovation". As really I 
> think what you describe would be external projects, and so we should 
> just be up front about that.

This is not important to the overall plan, and since BenB also flagged 
this perhaps I should just remove it, unless there are lingering doubts 
about whether Thunderbird can profitably use additional resources. 
"Support for external projects directly related to Thunderbird 
innovation" is not really what I had in mind, but it is not worth the 
effort to clarify.

> - As I've mentioned in the past, I still believe that the existing 
> module owners & peers group could do a lot more than what we currently 
> do, especially wrt to decision making/direction setting. Some of this 
> could easily be managed via the weekly meeting, but I'm not sure I'm 
> seeing the questions/discussions around what people should do or be 
> focussing on.
> There's a two-way process here, of setting what the focus is, and then 
> contributors acting on that. We tried this before last year, and it 
> didn't seem to work. Did we do any analysis as to why?

I think that the most common analysis seems to be some variation of "we 
did not do an adequate job of marketing outselves to attract 
developers". I hope that people who know me understand that I do not 
agree with that analysis. To me, the primary issues are leadership, 
governance, and resources. We do not have a compelling vision or 
strategy, and even with that we are unlikely to succeed on volunteers 
alone. The essence of this "donation link" proposal are 1) broaden the 
overall project leadership beyond the narrowest "Thunderbird module 
owners" or Mozilla staff, 2) focus that broader group on making a few 
big decisions, which includes delegating to a smaller "Finance and 
Operations" team, and 3) empower that smaller team with some resources, 
as well as the responsibility to set and implement goals.

The other part of a broader plan is to have a parallel commercial team 
that follows a "Freemium" strategy with the community-driven Thunderbird 
as the free part, and a commercial product that wraps the core 
Thunderbird with addons and support as the premium piece. That is not 
part of this proposal however.

> - Quoting an assumption for amount of funds available doesn't actually 
> appear to help or benefit the proposal.
The point of that (if your are mentioning the $100,000 number) is that 
the governance structure is likely to be different if $10,000, $100,000, 
or $1,000,000 per year is available, so there are some scale assumptions 
in setting up the proposal.
> - The expanded groups for decision making doesn't actually seem that 
> useful. It feels more like a formal way to detail what I mentioned 
> earlier where module owners already take feedback from other groups.
 From my perspective, sitting here as someone trying to move the 
Thunderbird community into making some important strategic decisions, 
that group plays such an important role that I thought it necessary to 
specifically define who that is in the proposal. Without that group, the 
only people who can make decisions for the "Community" are Standard8 and 
sometimes JB.

Or are you objecting to the expansion of that group? I feel it is really 
important that people who clearly play a significant role in the current 
Thunderbird yet do not appear in any of the formal module peers lists, 
are formally recognized as being part of the team that makes decisions. 
If you are contributing significant effort into Thunderbird as a 
volunteer (or as a company), then you deserve a seat at the table. It is 
also empowering to give them a formal voice.

> It is unclear who or what the finance group would consist of, or who 
> it operates and I think that is one of the critical parts of the proposal.
You are correct that it is critical. I expect that group to be nominated 
by the overall module owners and peers group, with approval by the 
existing Mozilla module management structures.


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