Open Collective Foundation Shutdown Explainer

The open source community was surprised today by the announcement that the Open Collective Foundation is dissolving by the end of 2024. Since OCF is a popular charitable fiscal host for 600 collectives (including a handful of software ones), this is quite a surprise and a large disappointment.

Update: Open Collective Inc., the for-profit company that makes the open source software various collectives use independently, was also surprised by the OCF news by the OCF announcement. Similarly, Open Collective Europe (a public charity) has announced they’re here to help host charitable collectives too.

There are a LOT of questions out there, and information is coming slowly from the OCF, so here are a few FAQs for you.

Read more: Open Collective Foundation Shutdown Explainer

What is the OCF? What about OC, OSC, OCE?

Software engineers know that naming things is hard; there’s often confusion about which Open Collective is which. Note that these are all separate legal entities, although they share many of the same values, and have had some of the same people work on their creation and in the past.

  • OCF is the Open Collective Foundation, a US based 501(c)(3) public charity fiscal host serving 600 community-led collectives. The OCF can accept charitable donations (meaning most US donors get tax deductions) on behalf of collectives, and offer the same set of transparent finance management tools the OCF hosts, that the OC provides as open source code. The OCF is shutting down by the end of 2024.
  • OC is the Open Collective Inc., a US based for-profit corporation that offers basic fiscal management tools to thousands of community based groups. The OC can accept donations on behalf of collectives, although in most cases they will not qualify for US tax deductions. Tax deductibility may vary in other countries. The OC also builds open source software tools for managing fiscal hosting and more, which the other independent OC* entities then use to host their own collectives.
  • OSC is Open Source Collective, a US based 501(c)(6) business league fiscal host serving thousands of FOSS-related collectives with their instances of the same fiscal hosting tools that OC makes as open source. OSC also sponsors SustainOSS and other open source-focused programs. Donations are not typically US tax deductible.
  • OCE is Open Collective Europe, a Belgian non-profit association serving as a fiscal host focused on European collectives.
  • OCNZ is Open Collective NZ, a New Zeland non-profit serving as a fundholder focused on Aotearoa collectives. They offer both normal fiscal hosting, and charitable fiscal hosting through The Gift Trust, a registered charitable trust.
  • The Social Change Agency and The Social Change Nest CIC are a pair of UK based organizations offering consulting and charitable donation funds management in very similar ways locally.

When is the OCF shutting down?

The latest news is on the brand new Dissolution FAQ, which states:

  • Donations to all OCF collectives will stop on March 15th. This includes incoming ACH transfers.
  • Fund spending will cease September 30th. Any funds left in a collective at that point will apparently be transferred to some other (hopefully similar) US 501(c)(3) public charity.
  • Go read the FAQ for what I’m sure will be frequent updates.

What alternatives do OCF collectives have?

You may need to move quickly, since the OCF will stop accepting any incoming donations in March! Importantly, you should start worrying about moving (or spending!) your collective funds now, because it’s likely you’ll be restricted to finding another 501(c)(3) or equivalent public charity to transfer any accounts to. It’s unlikely (depending on your tax situation) that you could directly transfer existing funds to OC or OSC, for example (although you could obviously do new donations with one of them).

  • If your collective builds software, then you should evaluate these fiscal hosts that focus on FOSS software projects and are 501(c)(3)s:
    • Software Freedom Conservancy
      • Software In The Public Interest
      • NumFOCUS – If you are focused on the scientific data stack and tooling.
      • OSGEO – if you are focused on geospatial tools.
      • HackClub focuses on teens and high schools, but may offer hosting for other software projects too.
      • Some other 501(c)(3) FOSS foundations also accept new projects, although fiscal sponorship details vary.
      • TIP: you can search the active OCF collections by tags: 56 open source related collectives currently hosted likely need new homes:
        https://discover.opencollective.com/foundation?tag=open+source

If your collective is not based on building or using software, then the OCF lists two great (and giant) databases of other fiscal hosts. Note: you will need to do your research – most fiscal hosts have specific focus areas, or may have other governance or program requirements. It’s also important to understand the tax status, since any funds at the OCF need to be either spent on your mission before September, or get transferred to another public charity like a 501(c)(3).

Shane’s Director Position Statement 2024

I’ve written many times on how the ASF board works in my past 10+ years of service. My objective now is: simplifying and improving our governance culture, so that when the next generation takes over, they will be able to scale the ASF in a way we will all still recognize for the next 50 years.

There are two aspects I will focus on in the coming year to improve this:

  1. Making our documentation easier to read, and our processes simpler to follow for all of our communities, especially newcomers (contributors, podlings, potential Incubator donors, anyone).
  2. Ensuring rules and best practices are clear enough – with explanations of “why” behind every rule or practice! – so that it’s simpler for our PMCs and the board to keep helping our projects grow in the Apache Way.

Our membership is an amazing resource: passionate, focused on building community-driven projects, and active in advocating our community norms in the broader ecosystem. This outreach and mentoring by members is it’s own public good, above and beyond the software our Apache projects produce. But culturally, it feels like we are doing this individually, not as a truly coherent and organized community. It’s no wonder why some projects come through the Incubator with slightly different ideas of how to work, either from different mentoring perspectives, or hard-to-understand processes.

If we objectively view our how-to documentation and compare it to other foundations out there, we generally come off the poorer, both in graphic design and in readabilty to the newcomer. While some of us have spent immense effort in building up our published docs over the years, the end result has often been inconsistent in the whole. Historically, we tend to work on docs (or information architecture!) as individuals or small ad hoc groups, not true communities that are focused on continuing to maintain systems. That’s why I love Rich’s Working Groups concept over in ComDev: working to foster a specific communities working as a group on documentation and other improvements.


The above will be my main focus – along with everything else the board does, of course:

  • Reviewing and mentoring PMCs, with a particular focus on keeping feedback much more focused, actionable, and friendly.
  • Approving our budget, keeping the organizational lights on, appointing officers, and working on finding the next generation of officers and directors for our future.
  • Understanding the larger landscape we live in, like finding a VP, Public Affairs to track potential legislation in the US now that CRA/PLD are in progress.
  • Pushing us to invest – with budget/staff or focused calls for volunteers – in our public presence, to ensure that when we attract projects and contributors, they have an easy time building healthy self-governing communities.
  • Signposting our long-term strategy for the ASF as a whole. While we’re here to give a long-term home to our project communities (who build our software), the board also needs to help focus some of our individual volunteer energy into specific areas and collaborative working groups.
  • Working with VP, Brand Management to see if what further improvements we can make either detecting trademark issues, and in dealing with potential infringements politely, quickly, and in ways that protect our reputation, and make it simple for third parties to understand what’s appropriate.
  • Working with the Incubator to improve the experience. This includes both making it easier for newcomers to understand how the Incubator works, and to improve outcomes, so we have a better shared understanding of how ASF projects work with all of our newly graduated TLPs.

On some personal notes, I will have more time for ASF work in the coming year; last year brought unusual $real-life time challenges for me. I am retired, and have never let employment or personal income sources influence my decisions about what’s best for the ASF. I volunteer at the ASF because this is the most efficient and enjoyable way that I can donate my time for the public good. I truly believe that part of the public good we do is by our example of community-led collaborative projects, along with our software.

Open Source help and ideas wanted!

I’ve been working on a several different projects related to sustainability and governance in nonprofits, trying to explain larger concepts and build up some worthy datasets in some specific FOSS areas. There are so many good ideas, and so little time and coding that I have to give. So I realized… I should just try asking for help!

The appeal of open source for me is that I can contribute when I have time/energy/expertise, and when $real-life gets in the way, I can step back. The other appeal is everything’s in the open, so even if no-one answers, I might as well detail a few tasks I’d love help with figuring out – or even better, building!

FOSS Foundations Metadata Directory

Inspired by the FLOSS Foundations Directory, I wantstemed to start storing some structured data about the non-profit foundations that provide services to much of the open source ecosystem. This, the FOSS Foundation Metadata directory! I’ve currently collected basic organizational data on 50+ notable foundations out there, like board size, where incorporated, links to common kinds of policies, and the like. While there are various other listings of foundations or projects out there, few are structured data and none really track the legal, corporate, and funding details I’m working on. Similarly, while there’s plenty of academic research on community governance, it would be great to explicitly quantify governance models at foundations and major projects, to help see how they differ.

For US-based nonprofit foundations, we can fairly easily get top-level finances through IRS 990 filings. ProPublica’s nonprofit explorer (yay!) makes it easy to get core 990 data, which I’ve organized and incorporated some rough finances into the metadata directory. There’s a lot more visualization we can do here: while 990 forms are high level – total contributions/total revenue and the like – they are an apples-to-apples way to compare funding and expenses of US nonprofits.

Where does funding come from? Sponsorships, mainly: I’ve also reviewed and categorized the sponsorship prospectuses of many foundations to quantify both donation levels, as well as benefits provided for sponsorship levels. Once we can get a broader cross-section of foundations around the world represented, it will be some very interesting data. And thanks to Duane O’Brien who’s done some historical research of FOSS sponsorship prospectuses!

Help Wanted!

There’s interest from practicioners and researchers alike looking at sustainability here. But we need more time in the day – or more contributors! – to keep building out both our data coverage as well as linting, visualizations, and the like. If this is a topic that interests you, please head over to the GitHub Issues page and jump in! We could use help with setting up OpenAPI for the researchers and Ecosyste.ms, as well as linting, basic visualizations, and especially helping to add new foundations and categorize existing ones in new ways. For example, we have several metadata fields for policies, including links to Codes Of Conduct, as well as where a COC link is shown (i.e., is it prominent?).

Do You Work With Nonprofit Finances?

If so, let’s chat. In another life I’m involved with a hyperlocal nonprofit news website, so I’ve been relying on ProPublica and various scraping tools to help build up some pictures of local news organization finances. While ProPublica is great for top-line fields in 990s, it takes work to XPath your way into the guts of 990 schedules. The Giving Tuesday project seems to have a magic data lake project coming soon that might solve all these issues for us – but I’d love to have alternate perspectives on how to extract and analyze IRS 990 data at small/medium scales.

Also – are you a European or other non-US country nonprofit expert? How do you analyze finances across different organizations? While US 990 forms aren’t perfect, at least they’re (reasonably) consistent, and are easy enough to analyze at scale. Are there any similar broad based ways to gather nonprofit finances elsewhere?

Welcome to Community Over Code – in Halifax!

I’m so excited to be in the opening keynote at ApacheCon – or rather, what we now call Community Over Code (COC), the conference where all our project communities across the ASF gather, learn, eat and drink together, and maintain all the personal relationships that truly build communities. For many of us who’ve been working on ASF projects for years, this is truly a conference where we spend time not just with our friends, but folks who have become like family to us in our communities here.

If you’ve never been to an ApacheCon in the past, it’s not like your traditional tech conference. When we rebranded the conference as Community Over Code, it was intentional – because the point of our events are the people. So much of open source work is done online, without direct human contact. ASF events have plenty of technical content, but the real value to the ASF as a foundation are the personal connections people make and strengthen, and the community building that happens. That’s also why we always have a number of non-technical tracks, like Community and Sustainability to really help our contributors better understand how to manage their own communities across the ASF.

I’m doubly, no, triply excited to be back at COC after the long lonely days of COVID in the past few years. It wasn’t just the excitement and learning that I find at ASF events; it was missing all of my friends and family. While many conferences have hallway tracks and evening events, the strength of community in many ASF communities means something different. There are so many different relationships we each have in different projects, and so many truly strong friends to be found here. And it’s not just the folks you have drinks with after dinner; it’s all those people who have become friends in real life, outside of technology – all the people who say “Hey, I’m vacationing in Boston, are you around?” and I get to host them.

For those here at COC, I’m excited to meet you (or see you again, dear friend) at the event. I’m easy to find, I’m wearing a Hawaiian shirt. For those not at COC this year in Halifax, we’ll see you in Europe next fall!

For more about the event named Community Over Code, head over to the .org domain!

❤️

ApacheCon Wants Your Conference Talks!

Are you opnionated about Apache projects? Do you like great tech conferences with no commercial puff pieces, just focused technical and community content about real projects? Do YOU have great things to talk about your project at the ASF?

Submit your talks to the ApacheCon CFP now! CFP is ending in just two weeks, and the conference will be 7-10 October in beautiful Halifax, Canada.

Wait – did I say ApacheCon? Oh, sorry! ApacheCon is now called Community Over Code – The ASF Conference. To better reflect the emphasis ASF projects have on active communities, the ASF’s annual conferences have rebranded to the slogan for ASF processes overall: Community Over Code.

This year, Community Over Code will feature four days of sessions, with tracks focusing on Search, Big Data, Internet of Things, Community, Geospatial, Cassandra, Financial Tech, and many other topics. Each evening will also feature Birds of a Feather (BoF) sessions, where communities will have an opportunity for free-form discussion and planning around our various projects.

I’ll be attending and hopefully speaking at Community Over Code this fall, and hope to see folks there – it’s been a long few years of travel limits due to the pandemic. I’m really looking forward to spending time with my larger ASF family again.

Just a reminder: this blog at a .com domain is Shane’s personal content. The ASF’s official conferences can now be found at https://communityovercode.org/. I’ve worked with the ASF’s VP, Brand Management to ensure that we can each continue to use the Community Over Code phrase in complimentary ways to each other.

I hope to see you in Halifax this October!

Where is sustainability for individuals?

I’ve been reading papers on “sustainability” frameworks of shared definitions, and was struck in many of the sections on Stakeholders. We think about the various FOSS projects, about the big industry players, about the rest of the user base commercial companies, and even about public policy. And yes, we do talk about “pay the maintainers”, and there are several organizations solidly devoted to that problem.

But what about volunteer individual coders as a class?

Much of open source contribution is done in small chunks by individuals “scratching their own itch” to fix a bug or add a new feature they happen to need. While some of this is done in conjunction with a job or a college class, some of it still done just because the coder wanted to get it done, not necessarily to get paid or a better grade.

A poor definition of this class is “everyone who’s contributed to open source without directly getting paid for it”, which doesn’t help much, but does give perspective on the scale. And most people working in software are likely to go back and forth from paid work to some kind of volunteer work (either piecemeal fixes or as part of a larger effort) many times in their career.

How can we classify all these individuals?

  • Software industry career workers, who will likely have many different roles in a career. They may sometimes lead projects, and often will make significant investments over time. They may often have a holistic perspective on FOSS components in relation to their business, so often are very conscious of what they open source, and what is proprietary.
  • Software industry-adjacent workers, who will work on specific bugs or features their industry needs from time to time, but primarily focus their work on custom features internally (i.e. possibly not contributions).
  • Academic, scientific, and policy/government workers who build software. When they open source something – depending on institution policies – they are more likely to be careful to ensure an entire package is included, so that their work can be easily reproduced elsewhere.
  • College and high school students looking for learning opportunities or connections in industry. Only part of the driver here comes from curriculum; much of the drive likely comes from where the students first feel they can make contributions and get some feedback or recognition.
  • Hobbyist hackers who have a passion for their work. Yes, they still exist, although it’s certainly a rare individual here who truly drives an entire project these days. But where hobbyists show up, they can be an important part of maintenance and quality control. Hobbyists are likely software industry professionals who truly do open source at night, separately (in some cases deliberately) from their day jobs.
  • Who am I missing? I know there will be a handful of other sub-groupings that could be useful to consider tracking.

What messaging can we use to encourage individuals?

These groups are obviously quite diverse in other characteristics, and include millions of people, so it’s difficult (except perhaps in public policy spheres over years) to directly influence them. But we certainly need to include this concept in discussions about sustainability.

One potentially practical task is to find ways to promote messaging that can continue to inspire newcomers to open software (or science, or government!) that yes, it is important they contribute, even in a small way. Helping FOSS organizations, projects, and communities find even slightly shared ways to both be friendly, to explain how to do things in their world, and to provide the general encouragement to newcomers seems like a useful practice area to help nudge the actual FOSS world into better sustaining itself.

What’s sustainable in open source? Questions!

Reading about open source sustainability the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find some pithy and useful quotes to start building out my FOSS Sustainability website. I started with a listing of the obvious resources – key funding sources, some overviews about how governance and funding mesh (or don’t), and the like. But between reading industry blogs and scratching the surface of research papers on sustainability, I haven’t found great answers yet. What have I found?

More questions.

Sustainability as a concept around open source projects and communities is such an overloaded idea that I’m having a hard time finding a specific place to start. So instead, let’s start with a list of some focus areas and questions to ponder, in terms of what perspective or audience we’re starting with. Thankfully, I’m also finding out many other folks are in the same boat, and are working on figuring out how to define this in broader, more useful ways.

Who is our primary focus?

The obvious group are “Pay the maintainers”, individual coders managing widely-used independent projects. The flip side are enterprises – who might pay for the projects they use, and various funding organizers: either grantmakers, collectives working on pooling and releasing funds, or even simple sponsorship buttons you can put on your repo.

The other kinds of maintainers are in community-governed, foundation-based, or corporate-sponsored projects. Plenty of projects are written by a combination of paid employees by one or more leading corporations, plus a constellation of individual coders or smaller companies.

The enterprise perspective is an entire universe of it’s own: often the people who understand the value of software they use are disconnected from people who control funding or strategy in a company.

Governments, NGOs, standards bodies, and the like are another universe of people concered about sustainability. Their perspectives are starting to get broadened by the growning research about both FOSS software impacts, but also risks, security, supply chain issues, and all the other news we read about lately.

Oh, and of course end users.  Where do they fit in with sustainabilty? Does the average user even understand they’re using open source inside whenever they touch a smartphone or computer?

What kinds of sustainability do we mean?

How do we keep open source software secure? Heartbleed’s giant security scare eventually turned into Core Infrastructure Initiative, a foundation to help fund quality and development of OpenSSL. But what about security across the hundreds of other critical projects used everywhere?

Are we concerned with keeping certain kinds of projects alive and self-managing and making bugfixes? Or are we concerned with the core infrastructure bits that everyone uses, and keeping them as solid upstream projects – instead of one particular vendor simply making all the fixes to their version, which becomes the de facto one most folks use?

How about long-term sustainability of the code itself, physically? How long are archives guaranteed, will they be findable, include history and releases?

How about keeping tooling current to today’s versions of other software bits in the dependency chain? Is there anyone around who can even recompile Tool X that uses frequently updated Dependency Y to ensure the binaries work correctly?

Of course all these questions might be changed subtly depending on the programming languages, and how projects are architected – or documented. The kinds of long-term tweaks to a UNIX utility are very different than a bit of Java middleware.

Does money come into it?

It’s more difficult, but you can find ways to make some projects sustainable without throwing money at them. But in most cases, we need someone to make a financial investment. And while sharing code has zero cost across any sort of boundaries, sharing financing and legal relationships (of employees, contractors, service providers, or whatever!) have significant costs – and lots of asymmetry in terms of knowledge and capacity to manage transactions – or even know they could ask for transactions (or some funding).

Which organizations are we considering?

Software companies (who build something related here) behave differently than other companies. Enterprises have very different resources and constraints than midsize or smaller companies. What about nationality and local law factors in how companies use or maintain their software dependencies?

By now you can see my theme: each of these general topic areas has a whole host of sub-topics, many with very different concerns even when they might seem similar. And of course the real world is a matrix of matricies of relationships between the who, the what, the money, and the how.

Feeling a little overwhelmed? I’m right there with you. Thankfully, that’s one of the exact questions some smart folks are thinking about right now: how can we define “sustainability” with some concrete concepts and shared terms / categorizations that we can all understand and agree on?

We’ll see! But I’m meeting some people that are making this very, very interesting to work on!

Let me explain…

No, there is too much. Let me sum up what’s been happening in the past 1081 days of March since the pandemic started back in 2020. Meme image from Princess Bride, featuring Indigo Montoya saying: "Let me explain... no there is too much."

The pandemic brought it’s own special challenges here, since we have complicating health factors that meant we essentially stopped going out for several months until we better understood the issues our situation presented. Luckily, we all could do work and school remotely for a while, so it was a far easier time here than for many folks.

Besides all the obvious things – seeing friends, going shopping, eating out, and just plain socializing – the other rotten thing about the pandemic was missing all my friends in the open source world. My two must-attend conferences were both cancelled in person: ApacheCon and Monktoberfest. Since I have a 20+ year career in open source technology, many of my friends are scattered around the world, and I only get to see them at conferences, which I’ve really missed, travel hassles and all.

Twitter and other social media sites have been a kind of lifeline, both for keeping up with the FOSS world and just with friends. That makes it all the more devastating to see the current $44B trajectory of turning that flawed-but-great tweetstream into the world’s most expensive billboard for a cheezy techbro. It’s currently a testament to the skills of Twitter’s past engineering staff (mostly fired or laid off now) at their skill to build a robust enough system to survive this long after a… ‘hostile’ management takeover.

My Pandemic Projects

At various times during the past two years I’ve turned to doing volunteer work or building websites to get by. I’ve also gone through a handful of wicked awesome games (and a couple of new game consoles) along the way.

  • Mutual Aid When times get tough, does your neighborhood have neighbors who help each other out? So many places in our modern (US East Coast suburban, which I admit is very first world problems) neighborhood didn’t really have that. So I worked on local social media and built Mutual Aid Arlington to try to connect people.
  • I ran for political office! Yes, it’s true, I ran for local town government during the pandemic – really bad timing for campaigning, I can tell you! In New England we have something called “Town Meeting” which is truly local democracy. To help people understand how hyper-local politics worked, I created Menotomy Matters.
  • I did NOT run for ASF Board. After getting elected again right in March 2020, I decided in 2021 (and 2022) to not run for the board again. Time with family and friends suddenly became so much more important – plus we had plenty of great new candidates for the board. It was a welcome time off, even as I continued to serve as the Vice Chair (since technically, the Vice Chair doesn’t need to be a director!)
  • I bought more domain names. It’s an occupational hazard, especially for anyone in tech who also has ADHD. Start with https://tldrfoss.com/
  • I got diagnosed with ADHD. Much to no-one’s surprise, I got an official diagnosis of ADHD, which explains a lot of my past history. If only this had happened… oh, 30 years ago, what might have I ended up becoming?
  • My remaining ancestor died. Mom deserves a separate post, but she was my last living ancestor. There was yet more paperwork.
  • We played video games. I mean, who didn’t? Along with a new Playstation, I played The Last Of Us (remaster, and 2), Horizon Zero Dawn, and Horizon Forbidden West. Each of them was an awesome experience, highly recommended.
  • I missed two years of conferences. Many of us did, as most conferences were cancelled. For those of us with open source friends, this was doubly hard, since that’s the only time we all gather together.

How Is This About Open Source?

It’s about community, which is the most important part of any open source project. Code is easy. People are hard. Especially groups of people from scattered backgrounds. Optimize your work for the people you interact with.

For those interested in more Shane, I use my real name on various social networks, find me out there!

Shane’s Director Position Statement 2020

As I do each year, here are my goals if I am re-elected to the Board at the ASF next year. Posting these statements each year (see 2019 and many past years) is an important way to communicate outside the membership how I think the ASF is doing (great!).

My objectives next year as a director are simple:

  • Continue to improve the services we offer our projects, especially around making services easier to find/use/consume, and provide better build, CI, and other infrastructure needs where practical for our organization.
  • Build a culture of positive encouragement so that newer Members feel comfortable speaking up; and make it easy for them to step up and volunteer for Foundation governance and operations.
  • Ensure the board takes a strategic view, and takes the time to think about the big picture and 5-year plan so we can keep the ASF vibrant and improving for the next 5, 10, and 50 years.

Continue reading Shane’s Director Position Statement 2020

Monktoberfest 2019 theme

Monktoberfest – the small but influential and highly curated single-track conference run by RedMonk and Steve O’Grady – always has a theme to the talks. I’ve been trying to quantify what I think the theme is all day, although there’s so much good content here it’s hard to quantify it clearly.

My default description of Monktoberfest talks is that it’s about how technology shapes society – and bring data. In the past, many of the speakers had done real research into their subjects and could provide rich and detailed source references behind the compelling and innovative narrative they spun. I have to say this year has been very light on the data side (so far; there are more talks tomorrow), but are the equal of any in the storytelling and concepts.

Continue reading Monktoberfest 2019 theme