Tip4Commit

Nov. 1st, 2014 11:07 pm
rbandrews: (sadrobot)
[personal profile] rbandrews
Yesterday I learned about a site called Tip4Commit (I'm not linking to them). I learned about them from a thread on Hacker News complaining about them. Here's how it works:

- Tip4Commit has a search engine where you can look up open source projects. If you search for one that doesn't exist (on GitHub), they automatically add it.

- Once you find one, you can donate a sum of money to that project, in Bitcoin. Your donation goes into the Tip4Commit wallet.

- Tip4Commit then watches that project's GitHub repository, and each time someone commits to it, they give that committer 1% of the project's (remaining) Bitcoin balance.

- If the committer has an account with Tip4Commit, then it sends them the money, to their Bitcoin wallet

- If they don't, then it sends them an email saying they have money they can go claim.

For a lot of reasons, this is extremely bad. And the author's reaction to criticism is even worse. And I'd like to discuss why.

First, the complaints. I saw three main complaints about T4C from people on the Github issue tracker:

1. Spammy emails. This was brought up by the Django project maintainer here. Sending emails to developers that you don't have a prior relationship with isn't cool. It's spam, and actually illegal. T4C gets the emails by scraping the commit logs of these projects.

2. Discouraging developers and offering perverse incentives for committing. This was brought up a couple places. T4C encourages developers to make lots of small, low-value commits and maintainers to be suspicious of new developers offering small commits. It insultingly "rewards" developers with a fraction of a cent for hours of passionate work.

3. Implying a relationship with the project maintainers where none exists. This is a big deal, in my opinion. He's using the names and GitHub identities of other developers in order to raise money, some of which he then keeps, without their permission. This is fraud. And it's probably worse than any other bad-behavior thing this project does.

All those are problems, but what I really want to talk about is the utterly horrible way the owner of Tip4Commit is handling the criticism.

First, there's been no acknowledgement that he's done anything wrong, or (god forbid) an apology for it. All criticism has been treated as a discussion of a technical problem. Sending out unsolicited emails? Add in a threshold, it only sends emails when you've accumulated $2. No acknowledgement that maybe the fact you're sending unsolicited mail means you need to communicate with someone that you shouldn't, just a quick fix for the mail.

Weaselly refusal to do simple requests, also. Someone asks their projects be removed? Well we can't do that because someone else could just add you back. Well add me to a blacklist then! Oh but a blacklist would be adding a new feature, why don't you write that for us? I am not even kidding.

Not understanding (being charitable here) why anyone wouldn't want what he's forcing on them. This is a big one. In response to "please remove my project," he just keeps saying "why? what about his instead? why isn't this good enough?" in different ways. This is boundary-pushing, turning into boundary-ignoring. It's actually really creepy to watch. The project maintainers (who are also sometimes the sole developer) are very clearly telling him to stop doing what he's doing, and he's choosing not to hear or understand them.

Shutting down discussions when it starts going against him. As soon as he has no way to misunderstand what someone is asking for, he says "this discussion has wandered too far" or "this isn't appropriate for a bug tracker" or something, and forces the people complaining to start all over again somewhere else (with him again obstinately refusing to understand).

All of these are really manipulative, scummy tactics. What I think is really going on:

- If a "donor" gives, say, $10 to a project on Tip4Commit, then the next commit to that project earns 10 cents, then slightly under 10 cents, then a little less, etc.

- But, because it's only taking away a percentage of the remaining balance each time, then the balance never actually reaches zero. And since that percentage is 1%, it takes hundreds of commits to even get close to zero.

- Eventually people will forget Tip4Commit exists, and the author can shut it down and pocket the remaining money.

- There will be more money the more projects he can pretend he's working with, so he adds everyone he can and refuses to remove them.

His defense for this, when he finally gets argued with enough to give it, is "why don't you want your developers to get free money?" I submit that this isn't the point at all. The maintainers don't want their names associated with this scam, and a few cents of free money isn't enough to change that. That's the tone-deafness the maintainers are fighting against with this guy.

Or sometimes his other defense: "how can you release your code as open-source and then object to this?" Well, because it's not the code you're using, it's the names and reputations of the project maintainers. And no matter how many times this is pointed out he doesn't hear it.

This whole thing is incredibly scummy and needs to be shut down.

Update:

Here's a message I just sent to GitHub support:


I'm writing this to talk about a project you're hosting the source for, tip4commit/tip4commit.

The way it works is, people can donate money to a particular open source project, and then the people who write commits that are accepted to that project get a small percentage of the donated balance. So if the current donation balance for a project is $10, the next commit would earn one percent of that, for 10 cents, then the one after it would earn 1% of the remaining $9.90 for 9.9 cents, and so on.

The problem is that the whole thing reeks of being a scam:

- Projects are added without the consent of the owners, and in many cases against their consent. Searching for a GitHub project adds it automatically to their database with no way to remove it, and people opening issues to have their names / projects removed get brushed off.

- It's almost impossible, at 1% per commit, to get an appreciable amount of the donated money back out. 68 commits to get half of it, 228 commits to get 90%. What happens to the money that no one has committed enough to claim? Who knows? Probably it just stays with tip4commit.

Which is why I think the whole thing is a scam, using GitHub to carry it out (by scraping contributor emails from GitHub commit records). They'll accept donations fraudulently under project maintainers' names, then dole out a few percent of them to committers, and eventually shut down and keep the balance.

I realize there's not a lot you can do about this, since you're not hosting the actual site and they don't need an API key to pull the commit data. But it would send a great message if you shut the repository down, IMHO.


I've had a little back-and-forth with the author of this scam, Arsen Gasparyan, here. He claims to not comprehend that the project maintainers might have a stake in this. This morning he disabled unsolicited emails and made it opt-in only for committers, thus making it even harder to get the fraudulently-collected money out of the thing. Projects are still added on search and can't be removed.

Which is the infuriating part, really. He totally denies that he's done anything wrong, because he totally denies that project maintainers have any rights to be trampled on. It's all about the committers.

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