I do a lot of Lightroom-related development. I don't get paid for it, but I'm a geek and I really enjoy it.
In case you're familiar with Lightroom, but not with what I've provided, here's a bit about what I've done...
Well, that's enough of tooting one's own horn... you get the picture.
I don't actually use most of these personally, and I don't get paid for them; I work on them because I enjoy it. I enjoy creating useful stuff, I enjoy that people use the useful stuff I've created, and I enjoy the warm fuzzy feelings that people sometimes return when I give them useful stuff.
It'd be nice if it were as simple as that, but more and more, the unfun aspects of software development have been creeping in. It seems that the mere act of giving actually creates much more work than it took to make the thing in the first place. Some days the crush of email – mostly bug reports, feature requests, and complaints – is so overwhelming that I can't even get through them, much less actually fix something or add a new feature. As I write this, my inbox has 1,544 messages that I've yet to fully attend to. This is stressful. Why do I feel a responsibility to follow through on something I've done for free in my almost-nonexistent spare time? I don't know, but I do.
Some days, of course, I do have time to work on things, and so far, for example, I have pushed out 72 upgrades to the Flickr plugin, and that's just since Lightroom 2 came out. For Lightroom 1 there were 47 additional versions. And that's just for one plugins; I've so far written 10.
I've been working on these as a warm-fuzzy side project for over two years now, and it's come to a point where it's now work and I have to make a change, to decide to let them languish, or get more serious about making it more tangibly worthwhile for me to attend to the unfun parts.
I sort of took a step last year when I quietly added a “donate” button to the plugins and to my blog. I have received some donations, and I am grateful. Oddly, the largest donation (a hundred bucks!) was unrelated to Lightroom: someone in Denmark simply enjoyed my blog.
Anyway, I'm thinking of ways to carry this further, to make the time and effort I spend on plugin development and maintenance – the work – worthwhile in a way that justifies it to me and my family. This is the point where most people would start a business, and start selling their work.
But I don't want to run a business. I don't want to sell a product. I don't want to deal with marketing or irate customers.
What to do?
The approach that plugin-developer Tim Armes has taken has a certain appeal. His freely-available plugins are limited (in his case, to process only 10 photos at a time) so that you can at least try them out. However, by making a donation via PayPal – a donation of any amount you like, whatever you feel the plugin is worth – you can remove the restriction.
A lot of people have been using my plugins freely for a long time, and may feel “cheated” to be suddenly restricted and hit up for registration. Sure, they could do it with just one cent (or whatever PayPal's minimum is), but perhaps even that's more hassle than it's worth for some. Some people might have philosophical issues with it, not wanting to part with even one cent, on principle. I expect that having used my free plugins for so long, some may even feel a sense of entitlement for them. How much of that is my responsibility?
I'd like to hear your comments. If you're a user of one of my plugins, how do you feel about this? What kind of approach would sit well with you, feel reasonable to you? What about if you use more than one plugin, and/or do so on more than one computer?
You can leave a comment on my blog, or via email. Thanks.
(To head off one thing I'm sure some plugin-users will comment on: I'll likely remove plugin expiration, but at the cost of rejecting bug reports that aren't for the most-recent version.)