Maintaining the Maintainers: Attribution as an Economic Model for Open Source

Sid Kasivajhula (any pronouns, commonly he/him, IRC: countvajhula,

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The following image shows where the talk is in the schedule for Sat 2022-12-03. Solid lines show talks with Q&A via BigBlueButton. Dashed lines show talks with Q&A via IRC or Etherpad.

Schedule for Saturday Saturday 9:00- 9:05 Saturday opening remarks sat-open 9:05- 9:25 Emacs journalism (or everything's a nail if you hit it with Emacs) journalism 9:45- 9:55 Back to school with Emacs school 10:05-10:15 How to incorporate handwritten notes into Emacs Orgmode handwritten 10:45-11:05 Writing and organizing literature notes for scientific writing science 11:25-11:35 The Emacs Buddy initiative buddy 1:00- 1:20 Attending and organizing Emacs meetups meetups 1:40- 1:55 Linking personal info with Hyperbole implicit buttons buttons 2:15- 2:40 Real estate and Org table formulas realestate 3:00- 3:25 Health data journaling and visualization with Org Mode and gnuplot health 3:45- 4:05 Edit live Jupyter notebook cells with Emacs jupyter 4:50- 4:55 Saturday closing remarks sat-close 10:00-10:15 Tree-sitter beyond syntax highlighting treesitter 10:25-10:45 lsp-bridge: a smooth-as-butter asynchronous LSP client lspbridge 10:55-11:15 asm-blox: a game based on WebAssembly that no one asked for asmblox 11:25-11:35 Emacs should become a Wayland compositor wayland 1:00- 1:25 Using SQLite as a data source: a framework and an example sqlite 1:50- 2:30 Revisiting the anatomy of Emacs mail user agents mail 2:50- 3:10 Maintaining the Maintainers: Attribution as an Economic Model for Open Source maint 3:35- 3:40 Bidirectional links with eev eev 3:50- 3:55 Short hyperlinks to Python docs python 4:05- 4:35 Haskell code exploration with Emacs haskell 9 AM 10 AM 11 AM 12 PM 1 PM 2 PM 3 PM 4 PM 5 PM

Format: 20-min talk followed by live Q&A (
Discuss on IRC: #emacsconf-dev
Status: Talk captioned

Times in different timezones:
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~2:50 PM - 3:10 PM EST (US/Eastern)
which is the same as:
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~1:50 PM - 2:10 PM CST (US/Central)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~12:50 PM - 1:10 PM MST (US/Mountain)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~11:50 AM - 12:10 PM PST (US/Pacific)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~7:50 PM - 8:10 PM UTC
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~8:50 PM - 9:10 PM CET (Europe/Paris)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~9:50 PM - 10:10 PM EET (Europe/Athens)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~1:20 AM - 1:40 AM IST (Asia/Kolkata)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~3:50 AM - 4:10 AM +08 (Asia/Singapore)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~4:50 AM - 5:10 AM JST (Asia/Tokyo)
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The problem of supporting open source software and contributors is a pressing one, and one for which we don't have good solutions.

So many developers today pour their creative energies into freely-distributed works only to have those same works of passion turn into a pain in the neck when they find themselves eternally on the hook to provide support in exchange for minimal or no compensation, and often with limited assistance.

Fundamentally, the reason it's this way is that traditional economic systems operate on supply and demand as the basis of value. In such systems, open and unlimited availability translates into zero market value, and consequently, open source enterprises are not economically sound. Even in high profile projects, developers make a living purely through value added services rather than from the core of the value of their contributions – that is, from the code they wrote. Since, from a market value standpoint, that code is worthless.

Copyright and patents (not to mention proprietary software) are an attempt to address this within the existing economic model by imposing artificial scarcity in order to induce market value. In principle, they also provide safeguards against appropriation. On the other hand, the unlimited availability of creative works is a profoundly good thing from the perspective of maximizing value, and thus suppressing it is deeply misguided. Organizations like the Free Software Foundation have campaigned against such restrictions for some time now, for related reasons; nevertheless, the problem of providing a viable economic basis, aside from these crude attempts, remains unaddressed.

Attribution-based economics is a new model that aims to remedy this state of affairs by changing the basis of value from supply and demand to collective recognition. This is facilitated by a process of "inheritance attribution" where we collectively agree on the extent of inherence of ideas and works in other (e.g. derivative) ideas and works, by means of transparent and evolving standards. This model is capable of recognizing a much larger set of valuable contributions, including forms of value that cannot be coerced into a supply-and-demand equation. That is, in this model, there is no need to artificially restrict availability in order for something to be considered valuable. By virtue of the curious property that innovations on the process are themselves subject to the process of recognition in a self-reflective way, we gain accuracy, and by the property that agreed-upon standards apply equally to all, we gain fairness – guarantees that are at best tenuously present in today's economic systems.

This talk introduces some early experiments with attribution-based economics in the Emacs community, and some initial proposals that point the way forward on how, with your help, such a system might scale up to larger projects and communities far beyond open source.

Questions or comments? Please e-mail