Creating Web3j, an open-source library for Ethereum, has been quite a journey for me. As I reflect on the past 7 years, I can’t help but wish I had known a few things before starting this endeavor. In this article, I’ll share 7 key insights that could have made a big difference in my approach.
First and foremost, monetizing open source is incredibly challenging. While open source software is widely used and appreciated, finding a way to make money from it is not easy. Yes, you can charge for applications built with open-source software, but getting developers to pay for the software itself is a tough nut to crack. To overcome this hurdle, some projects turn to models like the open-core model or hosted deployment models. The open-core model is more suited for enterprises, while the hosted deployment model works if you have a standalone technology. However, even with these models, monetization remains a constant struggle for many open-source projects.
Another lesson I learned is that creating open-source software opens doors. Having a project that you can proudly present and associate your name with gives you a unique advantage in the developer community. It can lead to opportunities for consultancy work, speaking engagements, and networking with fellow developers. It’s also gratifying to meet people who have used your software and appreciate your contribution.
One surprising aspect of open-source development is that people won’t always tell you they’re using your software. The best measure of success for an open-source project is lots of downloads and minimal bug reports. If your software works seamlessly, users won’t bother reaching out unless they encounter a problem. So, it’s crucial to proactively investigate who is using your project by examining binaries, searching GitHub, or exploring software release repositories.
While companies love consuming open-source software, don’t expect them to pay for it. It’s a given that users expect free software, but even companies that use your software on their production systems often won’t be willing to pay for it. They might appreciate your work and provide positive feedback, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into financial support. Recognize that the commercial value of your project might not come directly from the big-name companies using it.
As a developer, the most fulfilling part is the actual development process itself. However, once your first release is out, promoting your project becomes paramount. You have to invest time and effort in creating documentation, writing blog posts, giving talks, and engaging with communities to spread the word about your software. The code alone won’t attract users; you have to market your project continuously.
Expanding a project may seem appealing, but it can be a double-edged sword. Creating spin-off projects might seem like a good idea, but it can increase the burden of maintenance and support. In retrospect, focusing on refining documentation and fixing bugs would have been a better use of time and resources.
Finally, commitment is key. Open-source projects require long-term dedication and maintenance. Once you release your software, be prepared to commit to it for the long haul. Think about your willingness to invest in the project over a 10-year horizon. Creating an open-source project is not a decision to be taken lightly; it requires serious long-term commitment.
In conclusion, my experience with Web3j has taught me valuable lessons. Monetizing open source is challenging, but creating open-source software can open doors and provide great satisfaction. People may not always communicate their usage, and companies may not pay for your software directly. Promoting your project is vital, and expanding the project should be carefully considered. Lastly, commitment and a long-term perspective are essential for success in the open-source world.