Quine and the OSS creator economy
A renaissance in social media hits the open source network 🖼
It’s a great time to be a creator… at least on social media. After years of bootstrapping social capital and profiting from user-generated content, platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Meta have started dispensing some of their riches to the creators that feed content into them. This is an exciting paradigm shift, one that has also begun to blur the distinction between passion and profession.
The OSS creator economy
Perhaps the most vital characteristic of this renaissance is that content consumption has also become a precursor to creativity. The ur-platform is TikTok, which enables users to create brand new content by adding small twists to the videos they consume. Though it’s arguable that this is the secret sauce responsible for the app’s runaway success, TikTok’s own model for iterative creativity is far from unique in this regard. In fact, the model itself is a twist of the battle-tested forking workflow in open-source software (OSS), which allows developers to create a copy of someone else’s codebase and modify it to experiment, add new features or even pursue a new development roadmap altogether.
The fundamental principles governing the social media creator economy — content creation, content consumption, monetisation, and attention — also play a significant role in the generation of content in the OSS network. However, in this case, the process of content distribution presents unique challenges and opportunities. The most important is that in order to solve the problem of attention, one must not only take into account the likes and preferences of the users, but also their ability to interact and engage with such content. In the OSS creator economy, content consumption occurs when a developer becomes a user of a codebase or — more crucially — when a user engages with the community as a contributor. In this sense, consuming content in open source naturally yields experience and reputation. By algorithmically quantifying and storing the experience that developers accrue by using a repo or contributing to a codebase, we can systematically match them to high-value work opportunities that they can provably execute upon. This matching brings with it a possible indirect solution to the monetisation problem in OSS.
👩💻 OSS Contributions → 🎖 Quantifiable experience → 🛠 High-value work opportunities → 💸 Monetisation + more quantifiable experience
Quantifying experience is also a game-changer for the maintainers who are looking to build an audience for their content. Code contributions are generally recorded in the commit log registry and span a natural mini-network of creators. The open source community is thus a constellation of small collaboration networks interlinked by co-contribution events at the human level, and consumed at the software level through dependency networks. To keep this constellation of collaboration networks alive, we must guarantee that small projects can pitch their vision to the audiences that really care about them. It is for this reason that the success of OSS as a creator economy cannot rely upon hijacking the attention of consumers, but rather must rely upon facilitating opportunities for value creation through highly relevant contributor recommendations. At Quine, we believe that every project should be able to develop a contributor audience and achieve fully organic viral growth. The burden of seeking out and maintaining such an audience shouldn’t fall on the shoulders of individual creators. Instead, the process needs to be embedded as a primitive in content-distribution platforms. To do so, any such platform must take into account the technical ability of the audience.
The future of work and education
The problems of monetisation and reputation in the OSS creator economy are deeply interrelated with the problems of work and education in software development.
- Education: For software development, alternative education has begun to seriously challenge the monopoly of traditional education. Lower barriers of entry into the software development industry are sure to benefit the economy, but will also create an apparent over-supply of coders who increasingly feel the need to stand out from the crowd. In this sense, the open source network is set to become the arena in which developers create content to differentiate themselves from other creators and build a brand for themselves. The first version of our platform includes an interface to help developers up-skill and build verifiable experience through open source contributions.
- Work: Freelancing is one of the most popular ways to monetise one’s reputation and time. This has shrunk the optimal size of “the firm” to one, especially in the context of public codebases and DAOs. In this setting, every software developer is set to eventually become a “factory,” a “brand,” and a unit of “economic value” that interoperates with other developers and organisations through APIs and decentralised protocols. As the dynamics in dev freelancing begin to resemble B2B transactions, it becomes more important than ever to be able to systematically allocate talent to the work which yields the highest value. The next major release of Quine will provide a solution to this problem through an unprecedented ML-powered solution.
At Quine, we’re crunching code and OSS metadata to mathematically verify and quantify a developer’s experience, and to help every developer showcase the skills and talents which set them apart from the herd. Our objective as a company is to use systemic talent allocation to unlock the data incentives at the heart of software development in private organisations or public goods.
So what’s experience quantification? For us, quantifying experience does not mean reducing developers to a one-dimensional score or some sort of scalar value. Instead, we’re sketching machine-learning vector representations of developers from the content they have created in the open source ecosystem in order to connect them to the codebases and issues most in need of their specific technical skills (a technical blogpost about this is coming soon). While today we can allocate developers to the OSS repos where contributing best exercises their talents — providing them the opportunity to build a reputation they can leverage into paid work — our ambition as a company is to equip the open source software ecosystem with an end-to-end infrastructure for systematic talent allocation. That is, Quine will algorithmically connect developers to paid professional briefs which best suit their skills and interests. With the advent of DAOs and decentralised protocols, this problem is more relevant than ever.
In order to mathematically understand the experience of software creators, however, we first need to organise and understand the content they have created. To this end, we spent the last year semantically indexing over 155,000 repositories on GitHub, and wrapping those vector representations around a dev-facing UI. The alpha version of our platform is designed to help software creators build and showcase an impressive open source portfolio that highlights their superpowers as coders and their individuality as software creators. Quine-alpha features the following:
- A recommendation system that, given a set of target languages and topics, matches developers to repositories having an unusually high concentration of unassigned good-first-issues. This is our first attempt to tackle the attention and content creation problem in open source, while helping maintainers build an audience of contributors for their repos. The same ML technology has also been repurposed into two uncorrelated information retrieval tools, the one designed to find new open source tooling, the other to find alternatives to target repos.
- A next-generation developer profile which focuses on verifiability (computationally, a precursor to quantifiability). In this first release, Quine profiles will verify developer experience in a programming language by automatically extracting all supporting evidence from their GitHub account, down to the commit level. Users can also pin and comment on their most significant GitHub achievements, along with viewing and interacting with 100% of the metadata associated to them (including Issues, PRs, Stargazers).
We built Quine to conserve and create value in the open source ecosystem. The job market has reduced software developers to a small set of labels: ”frontend,” “backend,” “databases,” and so on. However, the sum total of a developer’s experiences is far more textured and profound than any of those labels might suggest. So much of the data which could otherwise be utilised to identify the strengths and interests of individual developers languish ignored. At Quine, we embrace the spectrum of individual insights, worldviews, and aspirations of which the open source software developer ecosystem is comprised, placing it at the centre of everything we build.
The OSS network needs to be equipped with the infrastructure necessary to provide its creators and consumers the same fluidity and opportunities for remuneration proven by other platforms to be economically viable. Together with the rest of our products, we’re equipping the OSS ecosystem with the technology necessary to manage the core elements of its creator economy: content creation, content consumption, monetisation, and attention. Solving this for the open source software ecosystem, the will directly transform the software development labour market as we know it, and the future-of-work as a whole.
Thanks to @emayovunefe for his help in preparing this blogpost! Artwork from asciiart.eu and Michelangelo — Written with ❤️ by Quine