Gallery: Online Photo Album: Page 2

Posted November 14, 2007

James Maguire

James Maguire

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Developing by Consensus

Having grown into a well-established project, Gallery is now maintained by a core of 10-12 developers. As in many open source projects, participation is tiered: some developers are highly active, while others are “once in a while” contributors. A crew of people hack the code and send fixes to the lead developers.

Also like many open source teams, the work is consensus driven. Bharat is – sort of – the unspoken authority, but most disputes about the project’s direction get hashed out with long discussions via the mailing list. “I can’t remember a time in the last seven years when I’ve had to step up and say, ‘Okay we’re going to do it my way,’” he says.

Gallery generates only minimal revenue, despite its renown across the Web (the site accepts contributions for the free software). One of the project’s few perks is an annual get-together for its most active developers, in locations like Manhattan, Las Vegas, and San Francisco.

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The other perk: being a developer on a high profile project like Gallery looks great on a resume. Plenty of top open source coders parlay their project experience into a full-time gig (or a better gig than the one they have).

“I can tell you that every interview setting I’ve been in since I’ve started Gallery, at least one or more of the interviewers knew about Gallery,” Bharat says.

“Certainly Google knew about Gallery and it did come in my interview. They were perfectly happy to have me [be leading it]. Basically, what they said is that they look for people who do things like this on the side because it’s an indicator of passion about something. Plus, Google is very open source.”

Is Software Development Spiritual?

Given the success of Gallery – used happily by legions of Webmasters – it’s reasonable to think the software would sell well. Probably quite well. So why not charge money for Gallery?

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to charge people for a product if it means that it’s going to curtail the number of users you have,” Bharat says. “We’re in it to change the world. The way to do that is to get it in front as many people as possible. And the way to do that is to make the price right. And free is a good price.”

“And if it really is the right product, and people really do like it, then they’ll be inclined to make a donation. And lots of people make donations to the project. For us, this is the most amazing endorsement, because it means that people are spontaneously deciding to open their wallet and give us money for something we haven’t asked for.”

In short, “We don’t do it for the money,” Bharat explains.

Instead, “It’s a form of altruism. You get this satisfaction from going out and volunteering at a soup kitchen. This is the same thing. We’re basically writing software that changes people’s lives. That allows them to do things that would otherwise be difficult.”

As Bharat tells it, the project has a spiritual aspect. “You’re basically building up a tremendous amount of good karma. The fact that it’s there, the potential – that’s what makes me happy. Having users show up in the Forum, and our IRC channel, and send me e-mail that says, ‘I’m really happy with this project,’ that’s worth much more to me than the small amount of money I would get from charging people.”

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