JavaScript Library Kicks Open Source Hornet’s Nest With Terminal Ads

The popular JavaScript library Standard is stress-testing ads in its package… which is also testing the patience of those who use it.

Standard, a “style guide, linter, and formatter” for JS, claims it can be used without configuration, and will automatically format your code and catch style or programming errors for you. It’s not too-good-to-be-true, either; GitHub says over 78,000 developers use it, while NPM says it has almost 200,000 weekly downloads.

We’ll pause a moment here to remember that open source is really hard. It’s controlled by major tech companies, and developers often aren’t kind to one another about open-source projects. Managers feel their developers should use open source projects, but often don’t allow them to contribute to the codebase.

Developers feel those who maintain open source projects should be paid, which is where things get a bit tricky. One of Standard’s maintainers created Funding, which has been serving up ads in Standard (Funding was included in the 14.0.0 release). Via GitHub, one user shows what they were seeing in their Terminal – an actual banner ad:

JavaScript Standard Funding ad terminal
An in-Terminal ad from JavaScript library Standard

Most who chimed in via GitHub or Reddit note it’s not a perfect solution, but pushes forward the conversation regarding open source maintainers getting paid. Our own survey shows 21 percent of developers disagree that open-source repo managers should be paid, while the majority think they should see some income; the majority (58 percent) feel an open-source project should be able to monetize if a paid app uses the service.

ZDNet’s article on Standard points out some developers simply don’t want ads in the Terminal. Many others in the GitHub comments section for Standard simply oppose ads in projects because it makes debugging harder.

A simpler (and probably better) solution is GitHub Sponsors, which allows repos to be monetized in a Patreon-style format.

Of course, the side effect of Funding isn’t that it allows Standard to be monetized. Funding is its own project, and can be used by anyone. Many of Standard/Funding’s detractors simply worry ads-in-code will catch on and become widely used.

Developer blowback has caused Linode to drop its use of Funding, but it’s also important to know the in-Terminal ad game doesn’t begin or end with Funding. Many have tried this before, and still toy with the concept. GitHub Sponsors and the Open Source Collective have the same model for monetization of open source projects, and really underscore the true issue with open source and making money: generosity.

Ads are forced upon the user; sponsorships aren’t. Consider our own polling data: Roughly 80 percent of developers either don’t think paid management of an open-source repo is appropriate, or is only fair under a very narrow circumstances. GitHub Sponsorships are in beta right now, but we have to wonder just how generous developers will be with one another when it launches. Judging from the feedback in the Standard community, we’re guessing the argument for free software and volunteerism will continue for quite some time.

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