I probably am on lichess.org more than any other single website, mostly losing chess games. It’s an absolutely perfect example of the best open-source software can be.
As an open-source project, the developers do not charge for membership. It’s totally free. There’s something extraordinarily humane and selfless about open-source, especially when it rises to the usage levels that Lichess and others (Linux, Blender, WordPress, e.g.,) have achieved.
Alternatively, closed-source projects usually offer a free membership, but include motetization strategies such as ads that only go away, or features that can only be accessed if you purchase a membership.
That’s not to say they don’t need money, but almost all of the revenue open-source make comes from donations.
One of the interesting ways Lichess monetizes is via the “patron” badge. If you donate at least $5, you get a little wingy icon next to your username:
That’s it–instead of a boring little circle, now you have a bit of “flair” that distinguishes you as someone who supports the hard work it takes to make an open-source project great. It’s a brilliant strategy to encourage donations. But I have to wonder, is it a feature? In other words, does paying for Lichess actually improve your chess skills and help you win more often? Does it help your rating improve?
I think this would be a great study. Lichess has a monumental open data set. One could conceivably analyse the data and determine that become a member does, in fact, make you a stronger player. At the very least, it would make you a stronger player on Lichess.
Symbolism and iconography have a powerful effect on us. They form our communication methodology and influence our decisions. When you play someone with a wingy badge, you may feel empathy toward them, and thus not play with your typical competitive drive. Or you may feel intimidation, or some other form of distraction that might throw you off your game, even if it’s just the tiniest bit. Placing the Lichess dataset under a microscope might reveal patterns that show that patreons are not only being supportive, they’re being tactical.
Here’s my hypothesis: becoming a Lichess patron makes you a better player. Time to get the abstract written.