Is GSOC a whitewashing project?

“The same procedure as last year, Ms. Sophie?” – “The same procedure as every year, James!” – at least when summer is coming, every year Google starts its “Google Summer of Code” (GSoC). This contest is a yearly event since 2005. Wikipedia states: 

The Google Summer of Code (GSoC) is an annual program, first held from May to August 2005,[1] in which Google awards stipends (of 5,000 USD, as of 2013)[2] to hundreds of students who successfully complete a requested free and open-source software coding project during the summer. The program is open to students aged 18 or over â€“ the closely related Google Code-In is intended for students under the age of 18.


The program invites students who meet their eligibility criteria to post applications that detail the software-coding project they wish to perform. These applications are then evaluated by the corresponding mentoring organization. Every participating organization must provide mentors for each of the project ideas received, if the organization is of the opinion that the project would benefit from them. The mentors then rank the applications and decide among themselves which proposals to accept. Google then decides how many projects each organization gets, and asks the organizations to mark at most that many projects accordingly.

Sounds nice, eh? Submit a nice project, do some cool coding and get 5000.- US-$ for having some sort of fun!

While writing Open Source software (FLOSS/Libre Software), often there’s no money it. It’s an honory task, just for the benefit of creating a better world. A little bit, at least. Doing some coding on FLOSS and getting paid is great, eh?

But think twice! Maybe Google is not that friendly company it always states that it is? In the first place Google is a company and wants to earn money. And it has a mantra: “Don’t be evil!” But the companys main purpose is to earn money and it will do anything to achieve this.

Think of GSoC as a cheap marketing project for Google. A contest for whitewashing Googles image. They can say: “hey, look! We are supporting the FLOSS community! We are not evil!” And you can look at GSoC as a cheap recruitment program for Google. Overall it appears that Google has a bigger benefit from GSoC than the participants as a single or than FLOSS community as a whole. There is a danger that the community gets pocketed by Google instead of enforcing the FLOSS standards and being as independant as possible.

Sure, you need to pay bills, get something to eat and so on, but do you really want to help Google to whitewash its image as a monopolistic company? Or would it be worth to try out some sort of crowd funding when you have a great idea for a program you want to write?


11 thoughts on “Is GSOC a whitewashing project?

  1. Are you really that stupid?
    You are so misinformed that it’s a little bit hilarious.

    Google contributes *A LOT* to open source software. Have you ever heard of Chrome?

    And your precepts about open source software are very misplaced – many many programmers get paid to write this software. A great example would be the Linux kernel: nearly 80% of the people who write for the kernel are paid to do so.

    So before you write about stuff you don’t know about, why don’t you Google the subject? 😉

    1. Thank your for your kind ad

      Thank your for your kind ad hominem attack! Although it’s more a reason to delete that comment of you, I’ll take time to ignore your personal attack and answer it kindly.

      Of course, Google contributes a lot. But what is the motivation for this. Google pays lots of money to Mozilla to get included as the primary search engine. Furthermore the spellchecker connects to Google – although when you have choosen a different search engine and have installed the opt-out cookie.

      That’s just one example how a Google influences community projects (when you accept Firefox as being one).

      It’s nothing bad in getting paid for coding for Open Source projects, but consider the motivation of the paying company. Is it a monopolistic company? What do they want to achieve with that sponsoring? What is the benefit for the company? Is it a serious interest in giving back to the community or is it a marketing gag?

    2. Fact check
      “Google contributes *A LOT* to open source software. Have you ever heard of Chrome?”

      Talk about hilariously ill-informed! Chrome isn’t open source, is it? I thought Chromium was.

      Anyway, it might contribute a lot, but does it take more? And why doesn’t it pay proper taxes in the UK too?

  2. debian summer of code
    But as a potential donor, how can i tell if the person behind a kickstart/indiegogo project is who they say they are and actually going to do the work. having a respected overseer of the project, who can select students, mentor them and withhold funds if goals are not met is pretty valuable.

    So how about debian setup a summer of code. I am sure there are plenty of debian devs who can vouch for students that they know are already making contributions. If the debian project asked for 100k to cover 20 students at $5k each (maybe you need $150k to cover admin and taxes or whatever), i am sure it could raise it in a week.

    I know debian has had issues with some developers resenting others being paid before, but it seem to be able to tolerate student stipends.

    1. Really, I like the idea of

      Really, I like the idea of you for a Debian Summer of Code! Money could be raised by a kickstarter action or by some sort of crowd funding. May be we should take this idea to the proper mailing list and discuss it there?

      1. Any reason to use kickstarter
        Any reason to use kickstarter? Debian already has fund raising structure (SPI), and kickstarter is for-profit company which you presumably would not want to support. Also all or nothing funding may not be appropriate, if you only raise $20k then you just sponsor 4 (or 3) students, and hope that you can raise more next year. But maybe kickstarter gives you extra promotion (i am not convinced that many people just browse kickstarter looking for projects)

        1. No, please consider

          No, please consider Kickstarter just as an example, although a widely and well-known example, for such a crowd funding project. IMHO SPI is more a fund raising structure for Debian itself. Correct me, if I’m wrong. But maybe SPI and another fundraising method can both contribute? SPI for a base funding and additional funding via Kickstarter, StartNext, or whatever you name or is appropriate for a wider audience of funding.

          And, of course, you’ll need to do some PR stuff as well to announce Debian Summer of Code as well as the fundraising campaign. But overall I believe the community would be better off with their own Summer of Code than relying only of the good-will of money driven companies like Google.

  3. What? You mean a company aren
    What? You mean a company aren’t acting in a totally selfless altruistic way?

    I’m shocked, I tell you.

    1. It’s a different thing when a

      It’s a different thing when a company says “hey, we are sponsoring you, because we see a financial benefit from your work” or “Hey, we’re doing cool stuff and we’re not evil, although we want your data and your digital life in whole!” (well, the latter part won’t be said ;-)).

      1. True, though possibly that’s
        True, though possibly that’s Google being so big that so many people are pulling it in different directions.

        But seriously, last year Google paid around 1200 stipends at $5500 each = 6.6 million. Their income was over 12 billion in the year (according to wikipedia). I think they can afford to throw a bit of cash at fun projects (GSOC or without worrying too much about the results.

  4. I am not sure…
    While I am also somewhat skeptical about Google doing GSoC out of the goodness of their hearts, after analysing it for a while… I really do think they’re doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, or at least they’re trying.

    I have been involved with it for some time. They give lots of recommendations to mentoring orgs like Debian about how to interact with the programme:

    Read through it. The advice they give has for a goal making students keep working with a free software organisation. The whole programme seems oriented towards getting and retaining new contributors for free software. This may benefit Google in the grand scheme of things, but benefits everyone else at least the same amount.

    Also look at the students they pay for. The vast majority of them write code for which Google has no specific interest. Wesnoth? Moodle? The national library of the Czech republic? What possible use could Google get from promoting code for those orgs?

    They acknowledge in their FAQ that while GSoC may guide potential students towards Google, this isn’t an overt goal:

    And indeed, I don’t see how it would be a very effective recruiting tool in and of itself. Spending at least 5500 USD per potential candidate is a very wasteful recruiting system, even if you count the hours you pay to an actual recruiter for their work. There is the further issue that as for a recruiting system, you would have to have the alleged “recruiters”, i.e. the mentoring orgs, be on the lookout for the qualities that Google wants, and of course they are wholly unaware of them. The orgs are looking for candidates that the org wants to work with, not Google. The entire evaluation of the student is done by the orgs and its mentors; Google has no say in it except to check that the student is over 18 and can sign a contract with Google.

    Lastly, there are a few copycats of GSoC, such as SOCIS, for which the whole recruiting argument doesn’t seem to make sense to me:

    If this were a recruiting system, why would ESA copy it? They are not a software development company, they already have a recruitment programme, and moreover, they could just completely piggyback off GSoC for recruiting, just wait to see who the best students are, which are all fairly publicly announced, and then try to snatch them up before Google gets them.

    So GSoC seems to me to be genuinely oriented towards helping free orgs acquire more contributors. It seems to me like Google really is trying to do the right thing here. They are already so massively rich, that they can actually afford to be good guys and not get tax breaks from it. I really do think they are attempting to do no evil.

Comments are closed.