Being the founder of Free Software Magazine means that I receive amazing (or I should say amusing) amounts of email that ask us to announce the imminent release of some fantastic project that will change the world. I always answer that I will be happy to talk about the fantastic project once it’s been launched, and I can actually see something.
Nobody ever calls back.
Even worse, when I go back and check what the project status is, I often find that the “launch” never happened, or that it did and that’s pretty much where the project stands—a few months later!
In one case, not only was the project launched, but it flourished. The site I am talking about is ippimail. I will let Martin—the project’s founder—do the talking, and wish him good luck!
ippimail is a Hotmail-style email service which aims to raise funds for charities and the free software community. We now also have a blogging service, a shopping directory and a Google-powered websearch feature.
The project is UK-based but has global aspirations. Any charity, anywhere, can join for free. The service is also free to users; it’s advertising supported. 45% of profits will go to our listed charities and an additional 10% to the free software community.
The original idea came to me, Simon Martin, quite a few years ago. The trigger was the launch of Mac OSX!
OS X introduced me to the world of free software.
Through OSX, I came to realise that there were people who respected standards, wanted to contribute and didn’t feel the need to crush everyone they saw as opposition. I also came to realise that the free software method makes perfect sense when it comes to developing great software. The peer-review model is after all how anything important is developed, like pharmaceuticals for instance.
I’m only a wannabe geek (I used to do post-production on stills images for advertising photographers) but I wanted to do my bit to raise awareness of the free software community. There had to be many others who had absolutely no idea what the term “free software” meant.
So, I asked questions and received answers:
“Yeah, so there’s a bunch of computer geeks who sit in darkened rooms and make some sort of shareware stuff? Right?”
“Eh, well... you’re probably right about the darkened rooms but it’s not shareware. Most of the internet runs on free software.”
“Sure. This is industrial-strength stuff I’m talking about. You can even download Linux for free and be rid of Windows for good. No viruses...”
Not being a coder and not having the patience for bug-hunting (but I’m having to learn!) I had to think of another way to make a contribution. I wanted to create a showcase for the best of free software and show “Average-Joes” like myself what it was about.
Email was the logical vehicle as it is the one thing everyone who uses the internet has in common. Email is about communication. It binds people together. Ideal.
My wife has a background in charities... So let’s fundraise! That’s the hook for “Joe”.
Years were wasted trying to get investors on board. You can imagine how it went:
“Well... that sounds like a great idea! Seems like you could generate a great deal of money.”
“Yes, but... we want to treat it like a free software project so we aren’t selling any equity... we want it to be in common ownership.”
“...and we want to give most of the money away...”
Eventually, we decided to have a go at funding it ourselves as we went along. We went on the hunt for developers but as we could only employ them on a freelance basis they came and went and there was no real structure to the project. Other developers knew we were vulnerable due to a lack of knowledge and lashed things together without any real care. Others just plain ripped us off.
In the end, we stumbled on a saint in the form of JF. (Can’t mention his name as he wasn’t supposed to do any moonlighting...)
JF is a top-flight developer with a brain the size of a planet. To this day I don’t know how we came across him. He wanted to take a sabbatical from his job and took ippimail on. For ages he worked for nothing but the love of it and really laid the groundwork for the project in earnest. He basically re-wrote the whole thing from scratch.
Eventually, he had to get a real job again though and we couldn’t afford him. He still worked on ippimail but couldn’t burn the candle at both ends for long and we lost him.
After much searching, we finally found a great replacement developer for JF and feel we are on a roll. Since Tim has joined us we have a blog service, newsfeeds and now a shopping directory!
Our dream is to get lots of free software developers who think like us to join the project and help evengelise free software to a wider audience. We realise we have to earn our stripes though. :-)
What we need now is to spread the word! ippimail has morphed into something that everyone can get involved in. If you don’t want to use the email service, you can use the blogs or you can just shop via the directory. Either way you are making a contribution.
It sounds mad to hope to be better at email than Google but the one thing I have learned from this is never to underestimate the power of free software. Do I look like Bill Gates!?!