The voluntary contributions from thousands of Moodlers around the world has been instrumental in making Moodle what it is today. But the vast majority of these alms are free, which immediately brings two things into my mind. One, that the developers who volunteer their time to create for the community’s benefit can forego Moodle-related income. (Lest they are truly generous beyond their needs.) And two, that the conditions, and even the desirability itself, for a steady income stream from Moodle plugins, have less supporting evidence than previously thought.
I would be very interested to meet a developer whose source of income comes totally from Moodle plugins. (If you know of anyone, please share the tip!) In reality, most plugins are the result of specific needs of a developer or an organization. It is difficult to assess an accurate share of the Moodle functionality ever created that ends up available for everyone via the Moodle Plugin Directory or GitHub. But in any case, the copious plugins in existence keep the movement going and the community at ease. By most accounts, an important number of the free plugins available was subsidized by contracted Moodle development work. At least for now, Moodle has staved off the fate of many Open Source technologies, where limited contributions turn them into “nonrenewable resources“. They enter a vicious circle where the enterprise forego support for an Open technology, limiting its ability to stay relevant and secure, damaging its prospects for enterprise adoption further.
Ideas about enhancing Moodle’s revenue options never stop popping up, at varying levels of maturity. The latest of which comes from Justin Hunt, famed Moodler due to his family of audio and video recording plugins, PoodLL. His post on the Moodle forums starts innocently enough. He suggests a “Commercial” Badge, for those plugins that require payment to provide functionality. By the end of his post, Hunt has toyed with the idea of a separation between plugin directory and plugin marketplace, suggested a possible revenue stream from Moodle’s distribution network services, and even dealt with the complications to Moodle by assuming a money collecting role.
Without dismissing the badge idea, Davo Smith brings up a caveat. A developer at Moodle Partner Synergy Learning, Smith is illustrative of the subsidized model. Clients often pay him to develop new functionality which then Synergy licenses as Open Source, and submits to the Directory. Smith suggests that if a “Commercial” badge were to be implemented, it may detract some organizations from perfectly fine (or even better quality?) plugins only because they are offered for free. There are more sides to it than commercial-non-commercial, such as donations, or “showcase” plugins. These let potential customers have a taste of a freelancer or development company’s level of skill and standards, and usually belong in a portfolio. Which badge do these cases deserve? Smith does take it upon himself to maintain some of their sourced plugins, mostly the ones that help with his teaching.
Focusing on the “Commercial” badge idea alone, which could double as a search filter, there seems to be a good idea. Prominent Moodlers agreed as much on the forum. It would save precious time at selecting and implementing plugins, Smith’s ditherings notwithstanding.
Whether we will witness the Moodle Plugin Directory morph into a digital store at some point in our lifetimes cannot be predicted meaningfully with the available data. But one thing is certain: Moodle will endure if it remains a relevant language in which EdTech conversations take place.