As promised in our ‘State of Snikket 2023’ overview post, and teased at the end of our first update post about app development, this post in the series is about that thing most of us open-source folk love to hate… money.
We are an open-source project, and not-for-profit. Making money is not our primary goal, but like any business we have upstream expenses to pay - to compensate for the time and specialist work we need to implement the Snikket vision. To do that, we need income.
This post will cover where our funding has come from over the last couple of years and where we’ve been spending it. We’ll also talk a bit about where we anticipate finding funding over the next year or so, and what some of that is budgeted for.
Our last post on this topic was two years ago, when we announced the Open Technology Fund grant that allowed SuperBloom (then known as Simply Secure) to work on the UI/UX of the Snikket apps. Since then, other pieces of Snikket-related work have been supported by two more grants - both from projects managing funds dedicated to open source and open standards by the EU’s (Next Generation Internet) initiative.
The first one was a project called DAPSI (Data Portability and Services Incubator), focused on enabling people to move their data more easily between different online services. DAPSI funded Snikket directly to support Matthew’s work on account portability standards, which can be used not only in the software projects underlying Snikket itself, but any and all XMPP software. This one helped keep Matthew fed for much of 2021, and as we described on our blog after the funding was confirmed, it kept him busy with:
The other grant was from the NGI Assure Fund administrated by NLnet. It was one Matthew applied for on behalf of the Prosody project, and helped keep him busy and fed through the second half of 2022 and into 2023. Prosody is the XMPP server project that the Snikket server software is built on, so any improvements there flow fairly directly to people using Snikket.
NGI Assure is focused on improving the security of people’s online accounts, and their grant to Prosody was for work on bringing new security features like multi-factor authentication to XMPP accounts. The work included in the scope of the grant is now complete, and some of it is already available to be used. The rest will be boxed up over the coming months and released, to start finding its way into XMPP software.
Both of these successful grant applications are practical examples of the Snikket company serving as a way to fund important work on the software and standards that the Snikket software and services depend on. Work that can be hard to fund any other way. However, grants like these usually cover a medium-to-long-term piece of work with a very specific scope, which can divert time away from other parts of the project. It is hard to find grants with a focus on general improvements, bug fixing and maintenance. This is the main reason why there hasn’t been as much work on the app side of things, nor updates on this blog.
We very much appreciate the grants we’ve received from all these funders, and the important features they have enabled us to implement. But ultimately we see “side income” like grants as a short-term way to plug the holes in our financial bucket while we’re still getting up and running. Our long term goal, as a social enterprise (specifically a UK-based Community Interest Company), has always been to earn the income we need through donations and by providing commercial services to the community using Snikket software.
When Snikket began, the main plan for this was to set up a hosting service, where people can pay a regular subscription to have us look after their Snikket server (more on this below). But over the last year or so we’ve discovered that there’s a lot to be gained from partnering with other social enterprises with shared values and related goals.
One such company is JMP.chat, an innovative telephony company who provide phone numbers that can be used with XMPP apps, for both text messages and calls. They recently celebrated JMP’s official public launch a few months ago.
We’re very grateful to JMP for funding the other half of Matthew’s work hours while he was beavering away on the NGI Assure grant work. Why were they willing to do that? To answer that, we need to tell you a bit more about what they do.
During the six years their service has been in beta testing, JMP’s first priority has been developing software gateways to allow XMPP apps to communicate with mobile phone networks, and vice-versa. However, many of their customers are newcomers to the world of XMPP. They would often struggle to find suitable apps with the required features for their platform, and struggle to find good servers on which they can register their XMPP accounts.
What could be a better solution to this problem than a project that aims to produce a set of easy-to-use XMPP-compliant apps with a consistent set of features across multiple platforms? Yes - Snikket complements their service wonderfully!
So we have been collaborating a lot with JMP (or more generally, Soprani.ca - their umbrella project for all their open-source projects, including JMP). On the app development side, we share code between Snikket Android and their Cheogram Android app (both are based on, and contribute back to, Conversations). We have also worked to ensure that iOS is not left behind, integrating features such as an in-call dial pad to Snikket iOS as well.
If JMP customers don’t already have access to a hosted XMPP server and neither the time or skills to run their own, they need one of those too. So JMP have been suggesting Snikket’s hosting service to customers who don’t have an XMPP account yet. With all the necessary features for a smooth experience, easy setup and hosting available, Snikket ticks all the boxes. In fact the latest version of Cheogram allows you to launch your own Snikket instance directly within the app!
A lot of work has been put into ensuring the hosting service is easy, scalable and reliable - to be ready for JMP’s launch traffic and also well into the future.
But while JMP is an excellent partner, Snikket isn’t only about JMP. We’re preparing for our own service to also exit beta before the end of this year. Once we do, revenue from the service will help us cover the costs of continuing to grow and advance all of our goals. Pricing has not been set yet, but we’re aiming for a balance between sustainable and affordable.
JMP will continue to sponsor half of Matthew’s time on the project. The other half is covered by our other supporters. You know who you are and we’re very grateful for your support.
The income sources we’ve talked about so far pay for Matthew’s time to work on Snikket and related projects. We also appreciate the donations a number of people have made to the project via LiberaPay and GitHub sponsorships. These help us pay for incidental expenses like;
Project infrastructure, including this website, domain names, and push notification services and monitoring.
Development costs, like paying for an Apple developer account.
Travel costs of getting to conferences for presentations.
One other important thing these donations help to pay for is test devices.
We buy, or are donated, second-hand devices for developing and testing the Snikket apps. Used devices are much cheaper, so we can get more test devices for the same budget. Also, most people don’t get a brand new device every year, so these slightly older devices are more likely to match what the average person is using.
Finally, we consider the environmental benefit. Using older but functional devices gives them a second life, preventing them from being needlessly scrapped, and keeping them out of the growing e-waste piles our societies now produce.
So that’s everything there is to share on the topic of Snikket’s finances for now. But we’re not done with our ‘State of Snikket 2023’ updates, oh no.
As we mentioned at the end of the last piece in this series, there’s at least one more coming, about new regulations for digital technology and online services. A number of governments around the world are passing or proposing laws that could affect Snikket - some of them a bit concerning - and we have a few things to say about them.
We’re also going to sneak in a review of the inaugural FOSSY conference Matthew presented at recently.
Watch this space!