See our Intro for a short summary.
Problems with the status quo
The open, participatory internet has the potential to empower citizens around the world. Through online collaboration, we’ve built astounding projects like Wikipedia and the GNU/Linux operating system. Because these digital works are non-rivalrous public goods, everyone can access, use, and share them freely.
Unfortunately, we face great obstacles. Artificial restrictions impede innovation and creativity. Pervasive advertising pollutes our cultural space and our minds. Rampant surveillance threatens our civil liberties. Institutional powers assert their control through legal monopolies (copyright and patent laws), technical controls (often called Digital Restrictions Management or DRM), secrecy (such as published computer programs with only private source code), and “walled gardens” (undemocratic platforms that lock-in and capture creative value generated by users).
But if we reject proprietary restrictions and ads, how will people get paid to produce the works in the first place?
First of all, people enjoy participating in meaningful projects regardless of money. An amazing number of projects get developed today by people who work in their spare time and release the results freely to the world. Terms for such unrestricted works include “Free/Libre Software”, “Open Source”, “Free Culture”, “Open Knowledge”… From here on, we’ll use the inclusive combination Free/Libre/Open or FLO.1
Of course, work done only by unpaid volunteers often fails to match the quality of dedicated and well-funded businesses.2 If we could provide a sustainable living to FLO project teams, we could have high-quality resources without the anti-features of obnoxious ads, surveillance, or artificial restrictions.
We need systematic change
People continue using and supporting proprietary resources because they continue finding the products attractive. Social pressure reinforces this cycle. As long as friends and colleagues use and recommend proprietary resources, most of us will join them.
On their own, individual choices do not solve systematic problems. It makes little difference for any one person on their own to change. None of us want anti-features and restrictions; but until FLO projects compete on quality and marketing, adoption will be limited. To succeed, FLO projects need more support now. But giving our limited resources to proprietary businesses leaves less for FLO projects.
In this environment, people who hope to make a living doing creative work continue to place proprietary restrictions on their products. People who want the best resources continue using and supporting these proprietary projects. This cycle reinforces our collective dependence on proprietary resources and hurts the public commons.
Although possible, being vegetarian in a community of meat eaters is socially awkward and challenging. Likewise for what we could call “FLOitarians” — only a tiny minority of us will reject proprietary things out of principle. Few of us ever take the time to fully study the complex ethical and health issues with meat-heavy diets or the privacy and freedom problems with proprietary works. Most people go with the path of least resistance.
Choosing proprietary vs FLO
Which would you choose?
- Pay (whether in attention to ads or in dollars) for access high-quality proprietary resources — you’ll also have full access to freely-available FLO resources, and you can still donate a little to those when you feel able and generous.
- Give up proprietary things in order to better support more respectful FLO resources — you’ll go against the grain and retain your freedoms, but you give up any benefits the proprietary resources offer, you exclude yourself from the communities that surround proprietary products, and your actions alone make little difference anyway.
Many people choose a third option: work around proprietary restrictions to get access without paying (block the ads, ignore copyright laws, and crack DRM locks). But even though that avoids directly funding proprietary work, it still reinforces overall proprietary market dominance.
We need a new social contract: If projects choose to be FLO, the community will still fund them; and likewise, if the community funds a project, it should be FLO.
Most project teams don’t care about having proprietary control as an end in itself, they just want a stable income. If we cooperate, we could have all the best resources we see today and more — all FLO, without ads or privacy intrusions or any other anti-features.
Our matching patronage system allows everyone to support FLO projects with minimal risk and maximum impact.
Crowdmatching combines mutual assurance and sustaining membership support
Unlike the one-to-one matching used in traditional fundraising, we use a many-to-many matching pledge that we call crowdmatching. This creates a network effect where we all reinforce one another. And, unlike one-time fundraising campaigns that help projects get started, Snowdrift.coop pays out monthly to provide sustainable support for ongoing work.
Community patronage better promotes the public interest
Before the times of modern market capitalism, creative workers were supported by wealthy patrons. With Snowdrift.coop, the global community becomes the patron. Instead of businesses deciding the options that we then merely choose from as “consumers”, we will support and actively work with projects that best serve the interests of the public.
Our approach minimizes the cost and risk for both projects and patrons, making the system realistic and practical. Each new pledge presents an invitation to others to join in. If we only fund some projects or provide only partial funding, it will still be worthwhile. If, on the other hand, we succeed on a greater scale, we will inspire a paradigm shift toward a more democratic economy and a freer world.
How it works
- Register a user account
- Add payment credentials
- Pledge your support to your favorite projects
The base-level pledge says:
***"Each month, I will donate a tenth of a cent for each patron who joins me."***
- There’s no risk to pledging; if few others join you, it costs you nothing.
- When you join, your pledge means existing patrons will donate more to match you!
- You control your budget. If a pledge rises to where it hits your budget limit, it will be automatically dropped. To maintain your pledge, you can increase your budget or drop other projects instead.
You can also contribute creatively to the ecosystem. There are many ways to help. Also, as a patron of the Snowdrift.coop project itself, you can be a member of the co-op and have more say in running the whole system.
Holding projects to the highest standards
We require all projects to use Free/Libre/Open licenses, to be transparent, and to follow an honor system (see Community for more details). With funds coming from ongoing monthly payments, projects are held accountable to the community. Patrons can adjust their pledges based on how they feel about each project’s progress.
Why the name “Snowdrift”?
Our name comes from a dilemma in game theory called the Snowdrift Dilemma: Imagine a huge drift of snow blocking the road; who will clear it? We all have other things to do. Like funding for FLO, nobody wants to take on the burden alone. In the FLO dilemma, the obstacles to clear are proprietary restrictions and funding troubles, and we can solve these dilemmas together through our cooperative funding pledge. Hence: Snowdrift.coop. To learn more about the game theory, read our page explaining the snowdrift dilemma in detail.
Don’t Kickstarter and the hundreds of other crowdfunding sites already solve the dilemma?
The standard approach to crowdfunding involves one-time fund-drives with arbitrary deadlines and cut-off points. Because such campaigns address the issue of going it alone, they often succeed better than than simple donation requests. There are, however, several problems with threshold campaigns: campaigns can be costly and still fail, and successful projects are expected to become self-sustaining or to be completed and done with no further goals besides the initial ones. By contrast, Snowdrift.coop provides long-term support, greater flexibility, and community engagement — all designed specifically for free/libre/open projects.
What about other funding options?
All the existing funding mechanisms for FLO works have various problems (see Market Research for more detailed reviews), but we can work alongside them anyway. We simply require that projects reveal all their funding sources for the sake of transparency.
What projects will be included?
We may curate the set of projects that participate in our early testing and launch, but after that, we will welcome all projects that meet our requirements (which includes Free/Libre/Open licensing and a few other details) including art, music, journalism, textbooks, research, technology — as long as the project’s primary work is producing public goods that everyone can share freely.
Notably, the best FLO projects, such as Mozilla’s Firefox, often have full-time paid teams alongside their community of volunteers; and the funding itself can be traced back to proprietary sources. In the case of Mozilla, their funding came almost entirely from their referral contract with Google from 2006 through 2014 and from Yahoo since then. Google itself directly creates and funds many excellent FLO projects, but they remain mostly proprietary, and nearly all their revenue comes from surveilling everyone and advertising at us. All their wealth supports the development of admittedly excellent services. Google Maps / Google Earth continues adding amazing advanced features that help maintain its dominance and thereby hamper adoption of the otherwise excellent and community-built Open Street Map.↩