Funding decentralised/local-first applications for GNOME
This blog post was originally a wall of text on GNOME’s Discourse to involve the GNOME Project community in the shaping of the GNOME Foundation’s programmes.
The GNOME Foundation has not been giving as much news as we wish it has, but doesn’t mean nothing happened!
In the hopes of making GNOME useful for as many people as possible and finding sustainable funding, the Foundation needs to run public programmes. Let’s examine together what makes a suitable programme, what direction the Foundation is taking, and how you can help shaping the programme and the future of the GNOME Project as an active community member.
Note: this is only one axis of the roadmap the Foundation board has been working on. A post on our 3-axis roadmap will be published later by Rob and Neil.
What Makes a Suitable Programme
The GNOME Foundation is not GNOME’s Vendor
Let’s state the obvious: the GNOME Foundation is about GNOME. It is not about “GNOMEing” blindly but about supporting the GNOME Project and making it useful for people.
Given the Foundation doesn’t sell products or services, it can only happen with targeted, planned and transparent programmes, funded by donations. Because of the very open nature of the GNOME Project, the Foundation can’t decide for one direction of the GNOME Project for everyone: to have some weight the Foundation needs to be a significant contributor to GNOME. It needs to work with the people who make GNOME and take the existing culture into account to ensure the project will benefit everyone.
This means of course before drafting a programme, the GNOME Project contributing community needs to be consulted.
The Highest Impact
The GNOME Foundation is a not-for-profit, but also (should be) a not-for-losses. It relies exclusively on donations and grants to fund its activities.
Transparency with what we intend to do and what we actually do with the money is absolutely necessary to attract donations. While we have been making progress with now monthly reports from the executive director in This Week in GNOME , we still need to improve our communication when planning and running programmes.
Individuals have been a good support to the GNOME Foundation, but most of their contributions are in the form of design and code to the GNOME Project. Organisations have more financial power than individuals. It’s easier to get a handful for organisations to agree on funding a specific programme than to convince thousands of individuals to get the same budget.
In short: the more organisations willing to support a given programme, the more ambitious, successful and sustainable the programme can be.
Finding a New Direction
The General Direction
GNOME is a good candidate to focus on empowering developers to make local-first apps: applications where the data lives on your device(s) and is shared locally, without relying on any cloud service.
Not only would this be useful for the privacy-mindful people, it would be a great help for privacy needful people too. Such people include journalists, activists, and LGBTQ+ communities especially in certain hostile regions.
This could also be useful to reduce digital waste: with no server running 24/7 just to sync the data every once in a while, you avoid the production of the server in the first place and the energy it consumes when running.
Finally, it can prove useful for people in rural areas or countries with unreliable internet access, be it a regular or exceptional situation as disasters or wars.
Such a direction takes advantage of the native apps culture of the GNOME Project, and would contribute back to it since reliable and polished applications are a pre-requisite for this to work in practice.
Focused, Scoped Programmes
While many people are excited about the concept of de-clouded, local-first computing (see for example how enthusiastic people were about Christian Hergert’s prototype Bonsai ), the most reasonable thing to do is to ask people we want to help what they need, instead of just projecting our own wishes. Let’s identify the problem instead of coming with solutions missing the point.
The first project needs to be user research: when there is no Internet available, what are the priorities for the following populations, and what would help them addressing their issues:
- LGBTQ+ communities members
- The general public used to having access to the Internet
- People who live in low connectivity areas
Beyond having a clear understanding on what problem needs to be solved, the Foundation needs the expertise of the GNOME Project contributors to have a view on how to solve these problems, grounded in the reality of the project.
Before we even conduct the user research project, I wanted to open this topic to:
- Be transparent about what the Foundation intends to do
- Give the GNOME Project contributors an opportunity to get their voice heard.
- Is the orientation of the programme clear? Does it make sense to you?
- Are low hanging fruits we haven’t thought of, that would allow us to quickly make GNOME even more useful?
- If you were given a magic wand, how would you make GNOME a local-first platform?