In the process of checking on our competition I noticed a few interesting things about the open source document management market:

  1. Some of our competitors are completely gone from the market
  2. Some are no longer offering a “free” version
  3. Some require you to “contact sales” in order to find out anything about the system, even to watch an introduction video!

Document management system development is difficult, and open source software development only adds to the difficulty level. In open-source development there are limited resources, limited time, and an unlimited number of feature requests pouring in. While open source development has its challenges, it can also be easier in some aspects. Open source development has a lower overhead (hopefully) as there are many helpful tools and services that are provided to the open-source community at no charge (GitHub, etc). Frequently there are contributions from the community to the project, thus allowing the project to grow and improve without having a salary expense. However, just because your open-source project software is available for free should not mean you cannot make any money from it. 

It looks to me like some of our open-source document management system competitors have decided to move away from open source in order to make money, and I get that. But I find it slightly disingenuous to have a free product and convert it into a paid product without allowing the free product to continue to exist on its own. The Magento project has a business model where the community edition exists next to the commercial edition. They have shown how you can have an open source project and a commercial project running in parallel. Contrast that with other projects that either “hide” their community version, or removed it from their offerings completely. I think what a lot of these other open-source DMS systems have failed to apply are monetization methods. Monetizing your open source project is something that I think all project owners should be looking into, and I would argue it is critical for self-preservation. Lets take a couple of examples that help argue my point:

Joe’s DMS:

Let’s say Joe has an open-source document management project that has been around for a few years. The project is fairly popular and there are a lot of people coming to the site and downloading the software for free but there is no financial gain for Joe, he does this out of the kindness of his heart. He begins to get burnt out, tired, distracted and just moves on to something else. This leaves the community with no support, and no innovation which in the end is a bad thing for all open source projects and their users.

Bills DMS:

Contrast that story with Bill’s project. His project has also been around for a few years and has a lot of users. This project has monetized the project in various ways and has found out ways of generating some revenue while still providing their open source software to the community. Is Bill’s project more likely to continue to exist when there are paying customers helping to keep the lights on? I say yes!!

Now, there are some hardcore open-source folks who will say that open-source software should be free of all cost and that charging money for it is sacrilegious  Most of them have probably never run an open source software project, or been responsible for answering the hundreds of emails each year from users, maintaining all of the servers and sites required for the project, paying the hosting, domain, and software expenses. Trust me on this, open source projects are not free of expenses. 

 I believe that in order to have a healthy open-source software project you need to have some sort of monetization plan. If your open source software project has no revenue generation plans, feel free to contact me and we can discuss.

Stephen Lawrence Jr.

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