Themes

 
 
Picture of Danny Wahl
Monetizing themes?
Group DevelopersGroup Particularly helpful Moodlers

The themes forum might not be the right place for this discussion, so feel free to move it, but here goes:

It seems that most themes developed fall into one of two categories:

  1. someone was tasked by an employer to develop a theme (school, etc...) and they release it here or
  2. a moodle partner developed it as part of their package services and they release it here

I got my start in Moodle themeing by number 1: I developed Zebra and the ability to quickly change things like colors & logos because I needed to deploy moodle instances to 6 schools in the district and provide them with easy branding options but a unified look & feel.

 

But now that that's done I still have a few theme designs/ideas I'd like to try out that are outside of the scope of my work - and would fall squarely into personal time.  And that's not something that I can just justify doing.  However, if I could find a way to monetize that in a non-committal way I would pursue them.  By that I mean, I don't want to become a Moodle Partner because I don't necessarily want to provide support or hosting or even development per se.  I'd just like to create a theme and put it up for sale for like $5 or $10 bucks.


I've been reading into the nature of how that works in the WordPress ecosystem.  WordPress is GPL2 and the Software Freedom Law Center did an analysis of WordPress that determined that themes didn't have to be licensed under GPL exclusively.  You can read more about it here.  Themeforest.net takes advantage of this by split-licensing themes (php/lib: GPL, css/html: custom).  You can read more about it here.  However, WordPress.org went the other way: by only listing fully GPL themes in their commercial market (here), essentially embracing the spirit of the license.

I believe that a similar case could be made for Moodle.  And I believe that a similar decision would (and has been) made by moodle.com to embrace the spirit of the license (e.g. switching to GPL3 to close "loopholes").  This is my desire too.  I however, also don't want to violate the spirit of the community. E.g. collaborative sharing.

So I guess my question is less what can I technically or legally "get away with" but more what can I do that still contributes to the community and allows me to pursue theme development from a personal, financially viable perspective?


My current thought is this:  Create a theme that is available in the Moodle plugins directory, keep a different branch of the same basic code base but with more "features" - maybe some settings or something like that that I only distribute though some other pay-gate (paypal, a market, etc...).  That way I'm still contributing to the community and providing a value-added in the paid version.

Of course, the main frustration in the WordPress sphere with GPL themes is that a paying customer is then free to distribute the theme as they see as long as it's not commercial (as far as I understand - and thus themeforest's split-license scheme).  I'm not too worried about that, though I would be bummed were that to become the case.  I generally think that if someone's going to not pay then there's no way around that.

 
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It's only an avatar...
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group DevelopersGroup Documentation writersGroup Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup Testers

Hi Danny,

I know where you are coming from with this. I had a similar dilemma some time ago when I brought out the Isometric theme which started off its life as a FREE CSS Template that carried with it the Creative Commons Licence. There is a discussion in this forum from 2 years ago ( I think was 2010). This really did unnerve me for quite some time, and ended up removing all the themes I had developed at that time.

Now I just try to stick with with the general theme style for Moodle which is pretty boring. There are so many things we can't do at present in Moodle 2.4, like have different/custom block regions.  This apparently disrupts the pagelayout, and so a major overhaul of the dock.js needs doing, but no one has the time and I don't know javascript that well. else I would have a go. I dare say if there was funding for that project alone, it would get fixed. But there isn't, so it wont!

Anyway, I'm side tracking here.

Back to the GPL3 Licence. I have not read it so not sure what it does or does not allow. We can add image/icon sets in Moodle, that fall under the Creative Commons, so why not CSS, as in my point raised earlier?

Does GPL3 allow that?  If so then I am all for it.

It would be a nice thing if we could also make a 'buck' or two and have a website devoted to this via the Moodle Shop, whereby Moodle made a few bucks too! If I had a £1 for ever downloaded theme I made then I would be a very rich lady, according to my website stats! smile

Cheers

Mary

 
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Tim at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group DevelopersGroup Documentation writersGroup Particularly helpful Moodlers

The whole point of the new theme system in Moodle 2.0+ is that you can introduce whatever block regions you like.

 
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Picture of Richard Oelmann
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup Testers

That may be the point of the system Tim, but unfortunately it just doesn't work in 2.3+ the way it did in 2.2 though, which means that many of the themes with this feature made in earlier versions of Moodle2.x don't work in 2.3/2.4

 
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Tim at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Re: Monetizing themes?
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Mary just make we a watcher on MDL-34496 smile

 
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It's only an avatar...
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group DevelopersGroup Documentation writersGroup Particularly helpful MoodlersGroup Testers

Hi Tim,

Have you tried adding a custom block region lately in 2.3 and 2.4?  It works OK in 2.2 but not since the Drag n Drop in 2.3.

There is a Tracker out on this with Sam Hemelryk as assignee MDL-34496 also MDl-36164 (assignee Ruzlan).

The fact is custom themes don't figure too largely in Moodle.

Cheers

Mary

 
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Tim at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Re: Monetizing themes?
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I don't know why you say "The fact is custom themes don't figure too largely in Moodle."

This is one of the most active forums on Moodle.org. Many Moodle HQ developers (including me when I was there) have done a lot of work to give themes as much flexibility as possible.

Sure, there are some bugs at the moment, but now they have been reported, people can work on fixing them.

 
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It's only an avatar...
Re: Monetizing themes?
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Hi Tim,

The fact that this IS one of the most active forums in Moodle is because I and a good many others, including yourself, have devouted a lot of time here since Moodle 2.0 was first released almost three years now. The fact I can also fix Moodle CORE themes is a bonus, because lots of bugs are reported here first. There are a lot of bugs that need fixing which have not been done too, and still coming in due to changes being made that affect CORE themes.

I said what I said about "Custom Themes" because that is how I see it. Perhaps I have a jaundiced view, I don't know. Perhaps I am tired and fed up and just having a moan.

Moodle is getting harder to understand.

 
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Tim at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Re: Monetizing themes?
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I just wanted to say that it has been really great having you as an active maintainer for the core Moodle Themes, and the theme system. Everything you contribute probably entitles you to a bit of moaning wink (Particularly when, like this, it is justified.)

Roll on the Christmas break!

 
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Picture of Marcus Green
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Wordpress is released under the GPL2 (or later) and there is a significant amount of money made from selling themes and the like.

My fave bedtime book

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

This is a complex issue.  The wordpress theme issue got very ugly, and seemed to suck a lot of people into it.  See a random link here: http://www.shoutmeloud.com/wordpress-matt-mullenweg-and-thesis-pearsonified-gpl-controversy.html

Something happened that created angst around one theme, the fact that it was being sold with a particular license.

Caveat here: I don't undestand the complexities of the issue at all.  After a long fuss over GPL, the offending theme was released under a splt license. http://mashable.com/2010/07/22/thesis-relents/  I'm not actually sure where things are at currently.  I know a Google search will take me too far off track on this nice Saturday morning.

Wordpress commercial themes: http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/commercial/

Surely: if you make a Moodle theme, you use only Kosher component (ie no CSS, libraries etc under the wrong license) then it must be possible to sell this?  There are also Moodle Partners that sell themes.

Alas, politics and money are quick to enter the fray.  People also need to feed their familes.

@Marcus, do you understand the book???

Danny, good luck.  

-Derek

 
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It's only an avatar...
Re: Monetizing themes?
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Talking about Open Source always brings to mind Eric Raymond.

 
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Picture of Marcus Green
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Derek, I started habitually reading the GPL before the invention of the World Wide Web, I have read 10 years of posts on Slashdot about the GPL and I have read the book as thoroughly as I can, and occasionally take it to bed as a measure slightly short of late night pharmecutical help.

(note how I have cunningly avoided answering your question Derek)

 
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Me
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group Moodle Course Creator Certificate holders

I'll jump in on the discussion here, too, because it was mentioned that some Moodle Partners sell themes.

HRDNZ, the Moodle Partner in NZ I work for, sells theme designer services if not the actual themes. We haven't gone into selling themes themselves - the clients provide us with their graphics, colour palette, any specific requirements for placements / size, and we create the theme, charging purely for our time.

I love the fact that the themes that are developed and shared in this community all fit under the "free" and "open source" category. It has helped me learn so much about how themes are put together, and I'm still trying to catch up with my learning. (Darn real life keeps interrupting - two steps forward, one step back!) But I also understand the need for some renumeration for all the time, effort, and often frustration spent getting a theme to work.

Considering how easy it would be to simply share the theme around once it had been purchased, though, I'd be more inclined to put a donation button on my site where the themes were downloaded from.

Starving artist
Starving artist from Chicagoist.com

Something amusing like the one above. big grin No one can have problems with you asking for donations for your time, surely?

 
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Picture of Howard Miller
Re: Monetizing themes?
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Ditto - we've done stacks of themes but we sell the service not the theme. They are all for particular clients and are one-offs anyway so multiple sales don't come into. The client can do whatever they like with it - and good for them smile

 
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Julian Ridden
Re: Monetizing themes?
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I can only add another "ditto" remark here.

As Pukunui, also a Moodle partner, we reularly create theme's for our clients. And, as mentioned, the client is paying for the time taken to create the theme based on tei requirements. We make no stake on ownership of the code.

Julian

 
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Picture of Danny Wahl
Re: Monetizing themes?
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Sorry I was unclear, I meant that Moodle partners offer custom themes as part of their service package meaning:

  • they can develop a custom one-off theme
  • they develop in-house custom themes that are only available as selections in their service package (i.e. hosting)
  • they develop in-house custom themes and release them in the Moodle Plugins directory, but the development for these themes is offset by other services offered (i.e. hosting)

Not that there are Moodle Partners selling custom themes.  Both of the above are sales based on "services" - the development or the support, not the selling of the actual plugin.

 
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Picture of Howard Miller
Re: Monetizing themes?
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I don't speak American and I'm assuming 'monetize' means 'charge for'??

There's nothing whatsoever to stop you charging for themes. You can stick up a wb site and demand a sum for people to download them. What you can't do is stop them copying them and giving them away for free once they have them.

If you are only charging a few dollars then this might not be an issue. It's an honesty box, as it where. The alternative is to ask for contributions within your theme. I see this in a lot of open source apps but I have no idea if it works.

We all have to pay the bills and this is the price of open source software.

 
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Picture of Joseph Thibault
Re: Monetizing themes?
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Many of the free themes in the Wordpress gallery have options to pay for premium service or simply to donate to the developer.  The only issue I can see (but it's foggy) is that the Moodle trademark might prohibit explicitly offering a "moodle theme" for sale or "theme services" available if someone were to put up a website.

 
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Picture of Howard Miller
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group DevelopersGroup Documentation writersGroup Particularly helpful Moodlers

The problem you might have is creating a web site entitled "Cheap themes for Moodle" as that is offering Moodle services for money. This is violating the trademark.

There's nothing whatever to stop you selling them. Your difficulty will be advertising the fact.

 
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Picture of Danny Wahl
Re: Monetizing themes?
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Yes, and unfortunately as of now, the "service" I'm suggesting is outside of the scope of the Moodle Partner program.

It is focused on hosting, custom development, and support.  I see room for "one-off" services of providing a basic theme for $5-$10 dollars as a "starting point" with no additional service/support expectations.

This model is common practice in the WordPress/Drupal/Joomla ecosystems - and in fact I use it often for development here at work.  I head to themeforest, find a theme that's close enough to our reference, buy it for $30 bucks and begin modifying.  That $30 saves me a a lot of time of building the theme from scratch, and is much cheaper than say the $1200-$5000 it would cost to hire a dev. to build it from scratch.

And I'd be happy with that.  $2 to Moodle, $8 to me and I could probably cover my $130/year hosting costs that allow me to develop and distribute free themes too.

 
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Just wondering . . .
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group Particularly helpful Moodlers

Interesting discussions.

There are several broad approaches.

  1. Kickstarter version.  A few small players can get together a proposal and set a goal, and then try to attract the funds.
  2. The Paypal "buy me a coffee" version.  Invest time in somethug, and hope people come to the party.
  3. Leverege.  Do work XYZ for a big client, and package and put up in the plugins.
  4. The Free+Premium version approach.

I hope we find a way through this to see an unleashing of creativity.

-Derek

 
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Picture of Danny Wahl
Re: Monetizing themes?
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Well that "I don't speak American" comment made my day.

By "monetize" I mean "a way to make money from development".  This could be putting a "donate" button on a webpage, putting up a pay-wall, serving ads in the theme, etc...  Charging would be one form of monitization.

I'm aware that anyone could redistribute the themes - and legally so - I would just hope that people would see the intent behind charging.

Anecdotally I have had a "donate" button on my Moodle dev site for over a year - where I offer 6 different themes for download.  So far I have netted $0.00USD in donations, less $130USD per annum in hosting fees.  Part of that may be that my themes are also available in the plugins section and github...

 
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Me
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group Moodle Course Creator Certificate holders

Yes, donation buttons do have a tendency to be ignored, which is a problem. sad I am guilty of this myself.

I am not sure how to get around it, really.

One of the most effective methods I've come across for getting donations wouldn't work for Moodle themes, because you have access to the source code and can just remove any notifications / popups / footnotes in the theme.

 
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Gareth J Barnard
Re: Monetizing themes?
Group DevelopersGroup Particularly helpful Moodlers

Dear all,

On this, please see this thread I raised a couple of years ago: https://moodle.org/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=155116

And a Moodle Site tracker:

https://tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDLSITE-2065

Cheers,

Gareth

 
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It's only an avatar...
Re: Monetizing themes?
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This looks promising Gareth. Thanks for sharing.

Cheers

Mary

 
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