So I came up with an idea to fiscalize the dispersed demand for open source alternatives to proprietary software packages. (That's economist-speak for a way for folks to put their money where their mouth is.)
The idea is this: create a bounty program for particular projects. The best way would be to tack this onto an existing, respected OS organization, such as OSDN, but could be a free-standing non-profit entity. People would be able to:
- Create a bounty for production of a particular OS project
- Contribute to bounty funds for existing projects
- Place specific restrictions on their bounty contribution (i.e. must support a particular platform, needs to be distributed under a particular license, etc.)
- Suggest and vote on criteria for evaluating applications submitted for bounty consideration
- Review and vote on whether a particular package meets criteria and will be awarded the bounty
Funds would be collected from contributors at the time they decide to contribute. Lower bounds on contributions would be set by transaction costs; upper bounds don't seem necessary. Funds would be collected into a semi-liquid investment account (like a money market account) so that the money would accrue interest while the bounty is out. Costs to run the program would be collected from interest earnings on accounts, and the remainder of interest would be proportionally divided among the various projects.
Built from the ground up to be a flexible, communal framework, it would be possible to have fairly complicated reward schema. For example, if a particular submission met many of the criteria but not all (for example, had a great engine and lots of good features, but a lousy UI) the contributors to the bounty could elect to award a percentage to the project, and reserve the remainder for necessary improvements.
Since contributors have already put their money in the pot, there's less incentive to "hold back" awards if a good project comes along. If contributors merely pledge, but don't actually cough up the money until they've got the project in hand, they can say "Well, nah, this doesn't really qualify" and keep their money, while using the product.
Contributors and submitters could be any entity, including individuals, groups of people, academic institutions, or private companies.
So far I'm not seeing a drawback to this solution. People who want to see an OS port of a particular application could put up however much it's worth to them, and the projects that have the greatest demand and value to the community would get the most attention. OS developers would receive some financial reward for contributing their time and code. Small developers might decide to release a product as OS just because of the publicity they'd get from garnering the bounty, especially if they're trying to compete directly with an established proprietary product.