GitHub introduces “Sponsors” button, allowing users to donate money to open-source contributors

GitHub CEO Nat Friedman
GitHub CEO Nat Friedman (GitHub Photo)

Software developers that maintain and contribute to open-source projects will now be able to put out a virtual tip far on their GitHub accounts, thanks to a new feature called GitHub Sponsors that the Microsoft-owned company announced Thursday at its Satellite event in Berlin.

GitHub will match up to $5,000 in contributions to developers who sign up for the beta-stage program in their first year, according to materials provided ahead of the event taking place early Thursday morning on the West Coast. “When a contributor answers your question, triages your issue, or merges your code, you can head to their profile — or simply hover over their username — to sponsor their work,” wrote Devon Zugel, open source project manager at GitHub, in a blog post Thursday.

As open-source software has come to dominate enterprise computing, a lot of development activity has shifted to large corporations like Microsoft, Google, and others, who can pay their employees to contribute to vital projects that help advance their interests. That’s made it a lot harder for the individual developers who helped pioneer the open-source model to justify spending their free time on such projects, and several companies, such as Tidelift, a launch partner with GitHub Sponsors, have been looking for ways to keep independent developers involved in the open-source ecosystem.

But GitHub, as a central gathering place for software developers across the world, has the potential to make a huge impact through crowdsourced-funding of open-source projects. The company won’t charge any transaction fees for the donations, and users will be able to sponsor contributors in every country GitHub currently operates in.

GitHub’s interest in this area won’t stop at donations: “We’ve also convened an advisory panel to explore the operational challenges faced by open source teams,” Zugel wrote in the blog post. Microsoft has undergone a fundamental reset in its approach to open-source software over the last decade, but the increasing might of big cloud companies over open-source software activity has left a fair amount of people involved with enterprise software unsettled about the future of this space.

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