John J Jacoby: Making a living scratching your itch

It’s one of the mantras of free and open source software (FOSS): Software is born when one developer tries to solve their own personal problem. That is, the developer is “scratching an itch,” not being assigned to code something after some corporate marketing department spends weeks/months/years trying to figure out what the world (or at least a significant market share) needs or wants.

A more difficult problem is when a project becomes popular, scratching a lot of people’s itches. The software gains features, develops more bugs, attracts more users (each of whom may have their own ideas of what the software should do), and … takes more time to work on. Time that the volunteer developer(s) just don’t have, because they have to pay the rent/mortgage, feed the family, and similar daunting tasks.

One solution to this issue is for companies to assign coders to a particular project full- or part-time. But sometimes the needs of a company change (as when Canonical reassigned Jonathan Riddell, Kubuntu’s lead developer, away from the project), and the developer has to return to volunteering for the labor of love.

Getting Community Support

BuddyPress Logo
BuddyPress Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We now come to a most interesting potential solution to this problem: John James Jacoby’s Indiegogo project. JJJ (as Jacoby goes by on the Twitterz and elsewhere) has been the lead developer with BuddyPress (a social networking layer over WordPress) and bbPress (WordPress-based forum software) for nigh on to forever. As a result of his talent and skills, he got hired at WordPress’ parent company, Automattic, and worked there for some time. Over time, BuddyPress, bbPress and a sister project, GlotPress (translations for WordPress) begin to suffer from lack of attention.

English: Logo of the software "bbPress&qu...
Logo of the software “bbPress” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Making a long story shorter, John believes that with six months of sustained, concentrated attention on these three projects, he can make a difference in these areas:

  • Query and caching performance improvements to both BuddyPress and bbPress (to help them power the almost 20 million user profiles and the immense amount of activity going into them from all the support forums)
  • Media & Attachment support in BuddyPress
  • Per-forum moderation in bbPress to help with plugin & theme moderation on

This piece at WPTavern shares more of the story. My favorite quote:

WordPress is more community than software, yet the software that powers the community has nobody working on it full time



At WordCamp San Francisco in October, he was encouraged to seek community funding for this project. After some thought and planning, on November 11, the 30-day campaign went live at Indiegogo.

As happens so often with crowdfunding projects, JJJ hit 80% of his $50,000 goal in 48 hours. Since then, it’s been a little slack. Now he’s got another $6000 to go for the full six months.

Valuing open source developers

Just last week (before I knew about this campaign), I wrote about the value of open source communities. Now the WordPress community has the opportunity to prove its value in concrete put-your-money-where-your-mouth-is terms: Can it fund a developer (or more than one) to complete essential tasks without having to sacrifice on his/her standard of living? Can you make a living just scratching your itches?

John James Jacoby lives pretty close to me, and we’ve met a few times at WordPress Meetups and WordCamp Milwaukee. He is a terrific guy, and unquestionably devoted to the success of BuddyPress and WordPress. We should be able to come through for him in the coming days. I also hope that this followup idea from Josh Strebel from Pagely to make this type of crowdfunding project more formal and more permanent makes some headway in the process. Yeah, I’m going to kick in a pittance too, right after payday in 7 days. Maybe you have a payday coming up too? What is WordPress worth to you?


Linux Magazines: Something About England

Tux, the Linux penguin
Tux, the Linux penguin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

UPDATE 12/11/2013: Linux Voice has reached its goal, and will be published! I’ve signed up for a digital sub, and all the other perks are still available at the Indiegogo site until December 23.

For some reason, print magazines continue to thrive in Great Britain. Aside from WIRED, practically all the print magazines my wife and I read fly across the Atlantic to my living room (either by mail or book/magazine shop): Doctor Who Magazine, Prog, Linux Pro (which is technically German, but printed in English).

Linux Format is another of those successful magazines based in the United Kingdom, at least until the recent departure of its core editorial staff. Monday, those guys announced their new magazine project, called Linux Voice.

Several things make this project stand out:

  • They are crowdsourcing the funding at Indiegogo (exactly like the Ubuntu Edge, but with a far lower goal).
  • They intend to give half their profits to worthy free software projects (selected by the magazine readers).
  • They will work with their writers to make all the magazine’s content (especially the how-to material) available online nine months after publication.

Those of us in the states have been modestly spoiled by the amount of useful free Linux content at, and other online versions of print magazines. One look at the current Linux Format website, and aside from the TuxRadar podcast, you’re hard pressed to find any content at all!

Brian Fagioli of BetaNews interviewed Ben Everard of Linux Voice, where many interesting things were said. My favorite quote?

It will target the same blend of content and level of difficulty, and it’ll be written mostly by the same team of writers. However, we won’t be hamstrung by a corporate system that puts squeezing out every drop of profit ahead of creating an awesome magazine and supporting the community. In short, Linux Voice will be like Linux Format done properly.

At Indiegogo, would-be print subscribers in the US can sign up for £90 for the first year ($143.14 according to Google). Digital subscribers get in for £35 ($55.66). Other levels are available, with the usual assortment of perks.

Larry the Free Software Guy also likes the project. Larry is something of a free-software purist (which is not to say he’s a bad person), so his support means something. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Linux Voice plans to feature Larry’s favorite distribution in its first issue.

I think this is a worthy endeavor, and hope to squeeze some cash out of my budget to support this.

You can follow the project’s progress on Indiegogo, on the magazine’s website, on Google+ and Twitter.