Validator donation program: the first numbers are in!

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A few months ago, when a small group of people gathered to discuss about an idea that would later become the W3C Validator Donation and Sponsorship Program, one of the “design counstraints” we almost naturally gave ourselves was to strive for transparency. The W3C has sometimes been perceived as closed or secretive - partly because of its structure as an industrial consortium where part of the membership value is early confidential access to some information, and in spite of the the fact that all that confidential information is always exposed for all to see through public reviews, as early as draft stage…

On the othe hand, in the case of the validators, where all the work is done through public mailing-lists and a public code repository, it has always been much easier to share everything with the community, and it felt natural that the funding of validator work through donations and sponsorships would follow that trend.

I heart Validator

With the donation program entering its 7th week, and more big things to come, it felt like a good time to start analysing some of the data and sharing them with you. These are all subject to caution, especially given my weak number-crunching abilities and the less-than-stellar chemistry between the paypal UI and me, but they should be interesting nevertheless.

How much?

If this was to be a FAQ, there would probably only be a single question: “how much did the program receive so far?” You people are obsessed with money or what? :)

As of today (Jan 26, 2009) our balance is approximately 1900 Euros (2500 US$), with a little above 100 donations received. Not all donations were identified as coming from a specific country, but of the 65% identified donations, a good half came from the USA, followed by Japan, France, and Germany. The Japanese donator were, on average, the most generous (around 35$/avg) while the biggest (250$) and smallest (a number of 1$ donations from people who probably took the “A dollar for every time validation saved your day?” quip too literally) contributions came from the USA. We only had to refund a couple of people, when the small amount would not be enough to cover the fees and taxes taken by Paypal on every transaction – but we thank you all for your help!

The few people with whom I've shared this figure so far have fairly consistently asked whether the amount received isn't surprisingly small. Of course, I'd rather the count were in millions and that we could already achieve full independence, but given how we have so far only tapped a small core community of fans and blogger-friends, I think the result has been extremely positive, way beyond the raw numbers:

  • What actually mattered in this first phase of the program was to raise awareness in the fact that although the validators are free to use, building and maintaining them was far from free for the W3C. We did not really know how the community would react, and the response has been fantastic. Almost everyone learning about the donation program was supportive, and many started spreading the word through blogs, forums, microblogging, etc.

    The past weeks have also been a great opportunity to have constructive discussions about W3C, its finances and the validators. Questions and misunderstandings, such as whether the W3C is insanely rich or why hosting/bandwidth is not the main cost of the validators (the main cost is human effort) could finally be addressed, and even if the program had not made a penny, for that alone it would have been worth the effort. We need more open dialogue like this around W3C.

  • An unexpected byproduct of the donation program was an incredible raise in goodwill aroun our open source products. With the global economy in a relatively sad state, a lot of the friends of the validators thought “I might not have much cash to spare, but maybe I could help?”.

    After years of saying, with limited success, that the validators belonged to the community and that their progress depended on the goodwill of all, we've seen a renewed activity around the projects, many people bringing a very positive attitude to discussions, development and bug reporting – in the paraphrased words of a famous orator: “Ask not why this validator is not to your liking, ask what you can do to make it better”.

What next?

If things go well, the next few weeks will see us switch gears and push the donation and sponsorship program to another level. Our small team of staff and contributors has been working really hard to prepare new releases of the HTML Validator, CSS Validator and Link Checker, and all three new releases will feature the donation program, as well as our first sponsor(s), prominently:

  1. development version of the Markup Validator
  2. development version of the Link Checker
  3. development version of the CSS Validator

These new releases will also make the value of sponsorship much more obvious, and our small team will keep pushing hard to close a deal on the first batch of sponsors: if you think your company should really be in there, Contact Us!. We're cooking up cool ideas of validator subscriptions too, and goodies!

This is only the beginning. The past few weeks have shown that a lot of people care about the validators and are ready to help to keep them alive, to keep them growing, to keep them free. We need to keep that good energy going: please keep spreading the word, donate if you haven't, talk around you about the sponsorship opportunity, and most important, get involved in those projects.

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