A micro fund for Biff/TFOS projects

I’ve been at my new job for almost 3 months now, and I’ve been pleased to find that I usually still have 6-10 hours per week on nights and weekends to work on Biff. However, my other projects (Yakread, Platypub, The Sample, others that I haven’t started yet…) are languishing/are continuing to languish. My plan has been to rotate between Biff and the other projects, but in practice that means my “alt” (non-job) todo-list is about 6 months long currently. Realistically, I don’t think I can make meaningful progress on more than one project, and if I have to choose one project, it’s Biff.

I do however have a real income now, so paying other people to work on my various projects is a possibility. For the time being, my job salary needs to go towards savings for a house, but I have obtained stakeholder approval for funneling all of my alt income (profits from The Sample and Yakread, GitHub sponsors, Clojurists Together) back into my alt projects. It’s not a lot, but it should be about $500 - $1,000 per month.

As such, I wouldn’t be able to hire anyone at competitive rates, but maybe it would be enough for an open-source grant of some sort. e.g. I view the open-source sponsorship I get as a subsidy. It’s not enough to “hire” me at competitive consulting rates, but it does subsidize the time that I already wanted to spend on open source, and that is genuinely helpful. If there are people who are interested in working on open-source Biff/Clojure apps, maybe some small grants would be a helpful catalyst.

I’m envisioning something like this. I’d write up a list of projects that I’d like to fund people to work on. Each of those projects would have some supporting documentation, like a roadmap, fleshed-out github issues, etc. If you’re interested in working on any of those projects, you can fill out a simple application form – kind of like the Clojurists Together application form – where you specify what size of grant you’re applying for and what you’d be interested in doing with it. Periodically (monthly, quarterly…) I’d select some applications to fund. I don’t think there’d need to be a set timeframe for doing funded work. The more progress you make, the more likely you’d be to get selected in future applications. I would provide code review and guidance as needed, though the work would be as self-directed as possible.

All code would be MIT licensed. For projects that have monetization built-in like Yakread, I’d continue to deploy and maintain my own instance, while putting all profits back into the fund. If anyone else wants to run an instance and try to make some money, that’d be great too—if someone with better marketing chops than me can actually turn one of these projects into a successful business, that’d be fantastic. Mostly I just want my projects to at least pay for their own hosting costs.

I’m not sure whether to call this a “Biff fund” or a “tools for online speech fund”. It’s both, I suppose. The main motivation for this fund is that there is a constantly evolving set of applications that I’d like to bring into the world, and it just so happens that these apps would mostly be built with Biff and would mostly be tools for online speech. In any case, if people actually apply to the fund and the results are promising, I’d want to at least make it easy for non-Biff people to contribute funds without having to go through GitHub Sponsors. (The funnel for someone without a GitHub account to sponsor a developer is atrocious). Maybe I’ll set up some no-code subscriptions with Stripe.

I see this as a long-term endeavor. I expect that the largest short-term results will mainly be me learning what to do/what not to do. i.e. even if this fund doesn’t result in much progress at first in terms of app development, I’ll consider it money well spent as long as I’m learning something from the experience. What I’m really interested in is what this fund might end up looking like in, say, 10 years—after I’ve had time to figure things out and increase the amount of funding.

So the next step is to figure out if there’s actually anyone who would be interested in applying for these grants. I probably need to write up some of the aforementioned supporting documentation first, which I can hopefully get to in… a month or two :slightly_smiling_face:. But if this sounds like something you might be interested in, feel free to leave a comment or like this post or something.


I’d be interested in this endeavor! But, as a relatively new programmer, I’m motivated by the experience more than the money. And I’d bet I’m not the only one. (Though don’t get me wrong, as someone who makes a significant portion of his income via freelance writing, I have learned long ago never to turn down the money.) When you put together your list of projects for folks to tackle, it might be worth keeping an eye out for tasks that would be time consuming for you, but well suited for ambitious neophytes.

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I’m going back and forth on this a little. I’m mainly wondering if making my own little fund would be any better than simply donating to existing causes like Clojurists Together and Open Web Advocacy. What I might do is run the fund for 6 months with the plan of ending it after that unless the experience ends up being exceptional in some way. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to experiment.

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OK, third thoughts: I think this might work out pretty well, but as a Tools for Online Speech fund rather than a Biff fund. The main thing is that I think the fund should focus on apps rather than libraries/tools. Anyone who wants to develop the latter can apply to Clojurists Together—the “Biff ecosystem” is a subset of the Clojure ecosystem after all.

The fund could be a general “apps built with Biff” fund, but I think a TFOS fund would be more cohesive + easier to get people to contribute to. TFOS is a pretty broad category anyway. And in terms of my personal goals, I like the idea of funding TFOS projects :slightly_smiling_face:. Biff already has more momentum than my TFOS stuff now that I’m no longer doing the entrepreneur thing.

Mechanics of how I see this going down:

I will start TFOS apps and make them contribution-ready. Initially that would mean doing the Platypub rewrite and putting a bunch of issues in Github. Then I’ll open-source Yakread. I’d also like to make a forum app, as an alternative to Discourse. I’m sure I’ll think of other apps to create as well. In general, I think it’ll be easier for other people to contribute to working apps I’ve already started rather than trying to create new apps that exist only in my head–too much communication overhead.

All the apps I make and deploy will have a pay-what-you-want model where all profits go into the TFOS fund. As mentioned previously, I’ll also seed the fund with some of my own cash.

To apply for a grant from the TFOS fund, anyone interested can fill out a form with one main question: “what relevant stuff have you done so far?” I think this would ideally be contributions to existing TFOS-related projects (whether they’re projects I started or not), but could be anything, like non-TFOS open source, or blog posts you’ve written, or whatever. I’d just be trying to gauge “what is the probability that this person will do valuable TFOS-relevant work in the future?”

Notably, there would be no questions about what future work you’re planning to do, and there would be no deadlines. You’d just want to have completed some more TFOS-related work before you apply for another grant. Partially that’s because the grant amounts will be really small at first, and also I want to maximize the creative freedom of grant recipients.

All my own apps will include coregistration for the TFOS newsletter (I.e. after you sign up for the app, there’s a 1-click sebncribe button to also join the newsletter). I’ll publish it monthly-ish and talk about updates for my own apps, other updates from TFOS grant recipients, future plans, and my own commentary/ideas/suggestions about what would be valuable to work on.

The newsletter would have paid subscriptions that double as premium subscriptions for all the apps, in case any of them have any premium features/ads to remove (like yakread). Similarly, all profits will go to the fund. Maybe I’ll use a single stripe account for the newsletter + apps so they can all share subscription data easily.

If we’re really lucky, maybe this will create a working flywheel and eventually the fund will have some real money in it :slightly_smiling_face:.