Gittip is an important project, for many reasons. In case you are unfamiliar with it, Gittip is a modern take on the patronage system. If you like the work someone is doing, you can decide how much you want to give them each week, and Gittip sends them that amount on your behalf. Gittip is just starting to establish itself in the tech world, but it has the potential to impact many fields in a significant way.
How it works
Gittip gets many things right in how it is structured. Once you have decided you want to support someone through Gittip, you decide how much to tip them each week. As a donor, you let Gittip keep your credit card information on file. Gittip charges your card each week to cover your tips, but does so in a way that minimizes the impact of credit card processing fees. Gittip charges a minimum of $10 each time it runs a card, so that credit card fees do not eat away at what Gittip is trying to accomplish. If the $10 is more than what you are tipping, that amount is used next week until your card needs to be charged again. It should be noted that Gittip takes zero percent from each donation, which is quite different from other crowdfunding projects such as Kickstarter. Rather than take a percentage of each donation, the founder of Gittip has committed to using the model for his own compensation. He has committed to passing 100% of donations on to the recipients, and relies on tips to support his work on the project.
Focusing on small amounts
Gittip is built around the idea that many people making small donations is better than a few people or companies making large donations. It is totally appropriate to tip someone one dollar per week on Gittip. If 1000 people are tipping you one dollar per week, you can be pretty confident that the level of support you are receiving is likely to remain stable. When you have many supporters, a few people can drop their support without affecting your overall funding level. This is much different than one person giving you $1000 per week. If you have just a few funders, you must always consider the impact of losing funding from any one of your sources. Creating a stable funding source is one of Gittip’s goals, and the focus on many small ongoing donations should help achieve this aim.
Anonymity and trust
Gittip is founded on anonymity, which is another critical decision that Gittip gets right. It is tempting to want to know who is tipping you, and it is tempting to tell people who you are supporting. But whether we like it or not, money affects relationships. The message a $1000 per week Gittip recipient hears is powerful: “1000 people value your work so highly, and trust your decision making so clearly, that they want you to keep working on this project with no direct influence from your funders.” That trust is powerful, and ensures that recipients remain free to take their projects in the directions they themselves see fit.
The power of Gittip to effect significant change
The top recipient on Gittip is now receiving $160 per week. It will be interesting to watch what happens when people begin to bring in $1000 per week through Gittip. At this level, people can begin to think about basing their everyday work on their Gittip income. Above this level, people can seriously begin to consider quitting their day jobs to work full time on their open source projects. I am not naive, and I expect most Gittip recipients are not naive as well. The first people to reach higher levels of funding will have to think pretty carefully about the risks they are willing to take in depending on Gittip funding. But all the pieces are in place to make this a reasonable decision for some people. Once a few people have lived comfortably off of their Gittip income for several years, we may see more people pursuing full-time open source work.
Crossing over to other fields
The open source model has become well-developed in the tech world. As a hobbyist programmer, I have been watching the open source model mature for a number of years now. But I am a high school teacher by profession, and I would love to see Gittip take off in education. There are many educators writing curriculum, creating tools, and solving hard education problems on their own time. I would love to see some of these people gain support through Gittip. The opportunity to solicit this kind of support may also motivate some highly effective educators to make their work more widely available. I am certainly thinking about my own work in a different way with the possibility of gaining support through Gittip. But there is nothing special about education in regards to Gittip. It is difficult to think of a profession in which the Gittip model would not be meaningful.
My first Gittip donation
Next week, I will make my first Gittip donation. Part of me wants to say who I will be tipping, but I quickly realize how important anonymity is in this project, even off the main Gittip site. So don’t worry about who I’m tipping. Find someone whose open source or volunteer work makes your life better, and get them set up on Gittip. Even if you’re just starting them off at one dollar per week.