The best startups have a ‘Do It Yourself attitude. When a problem arises, no one gets assigned the task to solve it. The team jumps right in and gets to work. There’s always a sense of ownership and a sense of pride. They build new things because it’s cool. They think of ways to make things better and make them happen. They are the ‘Makers’, and for lack of a better word, they make $hit happen.
The Makers are usually a small group, they are creative people. A larger group of consumers are the ‘Takers.’ The Takers are both good and bad, so let’s discuss the Makers and Takers.
Years ago, and I mean years ago, I was in a Punk Rock band. I play bass and we gigged around New York City back in the early ’90s. New York City seems so much grungier than it is today and many of my old haunts have closed up and gone away. My bandmates and I even recorded our songs and we printed a few 7″ records. This was back when CDs just came out and there was no such thing as Apple Music. You actually had to go to a place like Tower Records to buy music.
Marty was our first singer and he was the classic punk rocker. He had a mohawk, some self-made tattoos, never showered, and lived to prank “the man.” He was cool to hang out with when you’re in your early 20s, but not so cool when you have to work a 9 to 5 and need to support a family.
One night, in a flash of Marty's clarity, he said something to me that I’ve never forgotten. He said,
“All those kids that used to pick on you in school for drawing, making art, music, whatever. Those fuckers are going to buy that shit from you one day. You’ll have the last laugh.”
Boy, was he right.
If you’ve read my articles on Open Source here and here, you’ll undoubtedly realize that there are a lot of Makers out there that make free machine learning software. They give their creative spirit and brains freely to build ‘cool shit’ and release it to the world in an unspoken ‘look what I made’ way. Of course, there are a lot of Takers out there because it’s FREE!
If the free software is awesome they’ll get a lot of Takers! It’s a great feeling once your software or library gets recognition, but it’s also a double-edged sword. Especially when I read things like this:
If you use Pandas, Matplotlib, and Numpy, know that about 15 people — worldwide — maintain those libraries. Sure, there are a lot of makers that add to those libraries but all those changes need to be reviewed and accepted by the maintainers. When you look at the millions of dollars ($) and millions of downloads, and compare it to the developers and maintainers, you can quickly see the problem.
There are people and companies that just take the open-source software and never give back to the community. They never develop the fixes they need, they just wait for someone else to do it. Most Takers never pay for things like support, or they skip over the suggested donation of $1 or $5, cause ‘Fuck it, someone else will pay. I can’t right now.’
Have I been guilty of this? Yes. But I’m getting better. Now, I pay for open source software I like and use. I’ve written countless tutorials and given back to the community (it’s the only reason why this blog still exists). I try hard not to be a Taker and more of a Maker.
On the flip side, the Takers can help if they stay involved. They can develop the fixes to the codebase and create pull requests, or show the Makers a radically new way of implementing the software. There are good Takers out there that realize that the Open Source ecosystem thrives on a continuous feedback loop and that investing money is a good way to keep that loop well-lubricated.
Flip the Script
Makers vs Takers is a very adversarial view and I purposely titled this article that way. In reality, it doesn’t have to be this way. In an ideal world, it should be Makers and Takers.
However, the reality is that many a great open source project either dies or becomes closed source. It’s very rare that someone else takes over the project and keeps it going. Often, it has a decent Taker base, it’ll convert to Closed Source or some weird Chimera called Open Core. This quickly pisses off the Taker community and you end up losing them to other Open Source (free) software.
The way to flip the script is to offer paid support. It doesn’t always work out this way, but if you have a big enough community that uses your work, you can get a royalty for it. You are the expert, the creator, and they’ll pay for expertise. Especially if they use your creation in production and millions of dollars are at stake.
Flipping the script in my mind is imperative to keep many open-source projects alive. It has to be. What if those 15 maintainers of NumPy, Matplotlib, and Pandas just redirected their free time to doing something else? Maybe some group of people will step in, maybe not. When you have such a disproportion of Takers vs Makers, a cynical person will say “No one will step up and volunteer to make free stuff for me.”
So the question is, can we change a Maker vs Taker society to a Maker and Taker society?
Let’s hope so.