This got a little longer than I intended. Tl;dr How do you decide whether or not to open source a project?
A little background:
In Oct of 2020 I, like many people, found myself out of work. I took the opportunity to start a company and spent the next year working on my first product. It was a wireless keyboard, but that’s not hugely important for this discussion.
I spent about 5000 hours in the first year developing this product. By the end I had something I was really proud of, but the upfront capital required for the first production run (needed at least 250 units to get the price down to a realistic level) and the realities of running a company and doing everything that wasn’t engineering steered me back towards getting a ‘normal’ job again.
Fast forward through a 3-4 month hiatus. I’m back in the workforce, and the feeling of NEEDING to sell a product for income has waned. So I decide to create a simplified version of my product that uses off the shelf parts and give it away for people to build themselves. In my mind, this was to be ‘open source hardware’, but more in that later. I put the 3d printed parts up for sale in my store for anybody that didn’t have a printer to make their own, but the STL files and supporting documentation are all free for anybody.
That felt like a good direction to go, right until I made a few posts on various internet forums to tell people about this new thing I made. The internet was quick to point out that just sharing STL files didn’t meet the requirements of ‘open source’. After I tamped out my knee jerk reaction to what felt like ‘gimmie more’, I did a little reading it seems that their interpretation is correct.
So now I’ve been having more trouble than I expected deciding what to do. Giving out STL files so that people can make my part for themselves was one thing, but releasing the full models that I put so much of myself into isn’t as easy of a decision. It’s not so much the time that I put into it; people much smarter than me put thousands of hours of their time into open source projects all the time. I think it’s a feeling that I’d be giving up ‘ownership’ of what I worked so hard on.
The draw of an open source project, in my mind, has been the ability for others contribute and the end result is everyone ends up with an end product that is greater than any of you could do on your own. It’s just not immediately obvious to me how the ‘sum of the parts’ mindset applies to a hardware project that is, for all practical purposes, finished. But then again, what if something ‘better’ can grow from it that I don’t expect?
The part that is weighing on me is that I WANT to be able to just give away my work for people to use, and by all appearances I’m in a position where that is something I can do. I just feel like I’d be betraying my own perception of the value of my time. At the same time, releasing what I’ve done up to now (in a perfect world) would certainly be something with a different kind of value in itself.
I know I’m not the first person to get hung up on something like this. Any similar insights/experiences y’all could share?