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I am a university professor, Egypt, and one of my academic research projects five years ago, on which I spent a really long time, was to develop and evaluate an online community and library of freely accessible and quality video content. The project allowed participants to record and share video tutorials and presentations easily. It has received many awards and produced 28,000+ quality videos. Today, thousands of users from around the world use my video platform to create and share videos, particularly during COVID-19 pandemic.

My question is: is it morally acceptable to leave and shut down this academic project, since I am very busy, do not have enough resources, and no investor or company is willing to support, fund, acquire or run this project?

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  • 3
    If you were one of those that got this project going, congratulations. You have done some good in the world.
    – Buffy
    Aug 15 at 12:33
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    (1) Open source it, then (2) start a Patreon, and (3) hire someone to take over your role if the Patreon succeeds? I can't productively answer the morality without knowing the costs and benefits, and while the free market has its faults, it can help you here: If enough people pay to keep it going, then it's immoral to shut it down but you can hire someone else to keep it going, and if they don't, then it's okay to shut it down.
    – Will Chen
    Aug 15 at 16:25
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    @Will Chen, if I make it open source, no body will pay for the recording tools or the platform membership, and this will make my problem more difficult. The project income helps me to run the project for five years, so far, and my mission is to keep the project for non-profit.
    – Alaa Sadik
    Aug 15 at 21:02
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    I think if people want to keep the platform going after you are willing or able to run it, they should be willing to put in the person power and resources to run the platform, if you announce you are no longer able to maintain the site yourself and are looking for such input. If no one is willing to step up, then I don't think you have any ethical or moral obligation to keep maintaining a service on your free time.
    – Andrew
    Aug 15 at 22:03
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    This is an incredibly important question.
    – xLeitix
    Aug 16 at 10:32
48

This is a situation I'm fairly well acquainted with since it is not dissimilar to open source software projects -- which is something I have been doing for more than 20 years :-)

It is clear to everyone that people's priorities change over time and that while you may have put a lot of time into leading a project in the past, nobody can expect that you continue to do that indefinitely unless you are paid for it: Life often just intervenes, you may have a new job, a new family, kids, etc.

A question to answer for you is whether you actually care about the project's long-term future. If you were the only one who ran the project, then walking away from it will simply ensure that it is dead. If you think that there is little loss in this, then so be it: It's your project, you're free to do with whatever you please. But you may actually have feelings for it that go beyond it just being a "job". Indeed, I read from your description that it has actually led to a lot of good, and it sounds to me like you think it would be a shame to just close it down. In that case, you'd have to find a way to hand it off to someone else.

Now, good leadership often includes mentoring people to take over from you. Among my proudest achievements as a founder of two open source software projects is that I feel that I could walk away from these projects and very little would actually change: There are people who I have passed all my information on to and who can (and frequently do) fill all of the roles I have in these communities. If you care about the project, and you haven't mentored others who can take over from you, then now would be the time for that: Identify who could replace you (individuals or, better, a whole group of people), have conversations with them about transitioning, and then teach them what all is involved in running the project.

Hopefully you can commit enough time for long enough to bring people into the boat and teach them what they need to know to take over from you. If you manage, the project will survive and your place in its history will be assured.

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I don't see an ethical issue if you take a few actions to lessen any disruption it might cause. A scheduled exit that is well publicized and not too soon would be good. Offering to let someone else take over responsibility would be good.

Making the tools open source, etc. would be good. You might consider passing on the domain to someone interested and who seems trustworthy. An organization would probably be better if it can guarantee stability.

I think making it possible for people to retrieve their contributed materials easily would be essential. Perhaps finding an archival site might be needed.

But, you won't, in any case, live forever, and unless the project has sustaining funds and an organization behind it, there is likely no guarantee that it can live beyond it's creator.


A quick perusal seems to suggest that much of the above is already in place, so if it is just one person stepping away from participation there should be no issues at all.

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  • If you're looking to find a source of funding which allows you to continue maintaining the project (at some small % of your time), find a (global) nonprofit technology partner like TechSoup Global Network, and ask them about funding or grants you can apply for.

    • look also into YouTube (technology) support for nonprofits, google.org or whatever. I can't readily find the right program. Ask their nonprofit community managers.
  • If you're trying to find someone trustworthy as maintainer so you can hand over all responsibility for the project, then again try the above. Be careful of the open-sourcing route that it doesn't get hijacked by spammers or SEO types, like The top-ranking HTML editor on Google is(/was) an SEO scam (casparwre.de, 6/2021). It's now well-known that there are organizations who offer $$$ to acquire (closed-source) apps with a good reputation so they can trojan them for malware, spam, contact-harvesting, SEO backlinks etc., then it comes back to bite you a year later. Also, make sure your licensing is watertight to prevent this sort of behavior (like: will your license stipulate that no vendor can ever charge a fee for it? forbid forking and resale without attribution?)

  • If you go open-source, Apache Incubator is a good way to go, and that page has a lot of advice.

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Why not make it open source? I'm going to challenge some of your assertions (or possibly misunderstandings) in your comments, which might explain why this is a good thing.

nobody will pay for the recording tools

Sure they won't. But why do you need them to? If you set up an open-source project on GitHub, GitLab, SourceForge or anywhere similar, then you have no hosting costs. At the very most you might want to pay for a domain name redirect.

or the platform membership

The platform is YouTube. Whether people pay for the ad-free version, or use the free version and live with the ads, is up to them. It's not something your tools should even care about.

The project income helps me to run the project for five years

Which is great. But presumably that was paying for hosting and paying for your time. You're stopping development, so you have no time to charge against the project. And you can host an open-source project in any number of different places for free. You simply don't need money.

my mission is to keep the project for non-profit

Which you will do by open-sourcing it.

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    "Open source" is not the same as "the project is alive". Just because you dump a few 1000 lines of code onto github doesn't imply that someone else will actually pick it up, continue to support and develop it, or otherwise care about the project. Aug 16 at 3:56
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    "The platform is YouTube. Whether people pay for the ad-free version, or use the free version and live with the ads, is up to them. It's not something your tools should even care about." It is when YouTube gives your channel a cut of the funds; YouTube memberships are specific to the individual channel. There are YouTube livestreamers whose full-time jobs involve streaming on YouTube and raking in YouTube membership money from their fanbases.
    – nick012000
    Aug 16 at 6:29
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    @nick012000, the platform is different from YouTube, it is developed with YouTube Data API, which is totally different from asking users to upload videos to their personal channels. Users upload videos to the project platform, whch handle, upload and process videos using YouTube servers then return video data and content to our platform.
    – Alaa Sadik
    Aug 16 at 6:35
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    @AlaaSadik So it's stored on YouTube, meaning it isn't costing you anything to host content.
    – Graham
    Aug 16 at 7:14
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    @Graham "So it's stored on YouTube, meaning it isn't costing you anything to host content." They still have to host the frontend somewhere, even if the backend is handled by YouTube. It sounds like they've monetized access to the frontend, as well.
    – nick012000
    Aug 16 at 7:34
3

Yes, it is morally acceptable.

If you were forced to continuously work on something against your will, this would be simple slavery, which itself is clearly immoral.

The only other moral way we have to force each other is by signing contracts - and if you had a contract which said that you have to support this project for another X months or years, you would not be concerned about morals, but about ways to prematurely get out of the contract.

Of course there are other aspects. Is it healthy for yourself? Is it in accordance with your own personal value system? Will it lead to prosperity and happiness for yourself? Will it be good for your reputation? And so on and so forth - that's where the "meat" of the decision lies, and all of these you can and should decide for yourself. Morals play no role there.

N.B.: as pointed out in the comments, this answer does not suggest to just "leave right now", but addresses the morality of the issue, as this is the title of the question, and the gist of the body, was far as I can tell. I'd suggest to create a secondary question on how to transform an academic open source project into a true community effort with little effort for OP, if required.

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    It’s a false dichotomy to say the only two choices are “leave right now” or be a slave forever. An orderly exit from the project, after taking reasonable measures to find and help train a replacement (or some framework for keeping the project alive, for example by letting the open source community take charge), seems like the most ethical choice, even if “leave right now” is a legally available option.
    – Dan Romik
    Aug 16 at 15:41
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    This is the best answer.
    – Tony Ennis
    Aug 16 at 16:14
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    @DanRomik, I am not suggesting to "leave right now" at all. Ich am saying that "being forced to continuously work" is bad. I pondered whether I should add more to the answer (about how to exit in a good way) but I feel that's more a side issue - OP is concerned about morality, and this answer addresses this very aspect. He got lots of answers which instead focus only on the "how". The morality is the interesting aspect to me, that's why I added this answer. I have added a little NB to address this.
    – AnoE
    Aug 17 at 7:42
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It's not just morally acceptable, it's inevitable: you will probably not live forever, and so at some point, you will stop contributing to this project. Your only choices are when that is and how well-prepared the project is for that.

With that in mind, I'd argue that there's an active ethical obligation to at least plan for the possibility of you leaving. This is quite a common concept in business, known as the "bus test": if you were to be hit by a bus, or are otherwise removed from the project unexpectedly and against your will, that would presumably be at least as disruptive as you quitting in any other way. As the probability of that happening is decidedly more than zero, you should have a plan in place so that the project survives you (since you seem to care about it continuing).

What that plan looks like depends on details of the project that I don't know about - maybe you have a collaborator who you could prep to take over if needed, maybe you need to recruit some assistants who you can train up slowly, maybe you can do something else entirely. Whatever it is, though, it will work at least as well (and probably significantly better) for you stepping away gradually in a controlled manner now, rather than rapidly and unexpectedly.

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  • Great, thank you @user3482749, I will start to prepare for that in cooperation with one of my colleagues who understand in business planning, and I will do my last try to convience somebody to acquire or adopt ths project.
    – Alaa Sadik
    Aug 17 at 11:24

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