SourceForge and the $1 Mark

SourceForge houses a lot of popular open source projects (and a lot of forgettable half-assed efforts as well) by providing development infrastructure, hosting, and community resources to developers. It is truly one of the real hubs in the free software world. They’re owned by VA Software Corporation, a business that has had considerably mixed success after its spectacular IPO back in Bubble 1.0.

People have asked the question “What if SourceForge disappeared?” for years now, but I have to wonder if we should be asking this question again. Now, SourceForge has its warts, but it’s ultimately a beneficial service. And, even if they did disappear, it’s highly unlikely that the open source movement would be handicapped for any real length of time.

But here’s why I ask the question:

That’s the stock price for VA Software. For those of you without an accounting degree: it’s declining. When their stock price hits the $1 mark and stays there for 3 months, they get into territory that we all have to be concerned about because NASDAQ can delist them from the exchange. Now, it’s not as simple as that and VA take evasive action in order to reduce the possibility of this event occurring (reverse stock splits are one), so I’m not making any definitive predictions. But when delisting occurs, it’s frequently viewed as the first nail in the coffin of a publicly traded company. Perhaps the most damage is caused by the appearance that the company is somehow unstable, badly managed or not creditworthy. This can make it very difficult for the company to maintain their credit line and manage cash flow.

My guess is that the open source world could feel some big shockwaves for about 3-6 months they disappeared. Active projects would need to find new homes, migrate CVS repositories, websites, mailing list archives and other time-consuming tasks. All the data in Google’s big search index for *.sourceforge.net would be out of date… and since Google only crawls the web a few times per year, it’s likely that this could hamper our ability to google for bugfixes in mailing lists, etc.

So it made me think: what’s Plan B? I’m don’t think there is any general-purpose solution. GNU’s Savannah exists for those projects released under the GPL. We do have java.net for Java projects. Apache, Codehaus and others are a little more closed. You can’t just sign up and get an account with them.

In the absence of an alternative to SourceForge, the implication is really that new projects would have nowhere to go. Developers would need to set up, pay for and maintain their own infrastructure and we’d likely rely on Google to index all of this to provide some kind of discovery process. And I guess that we’d get “community” via the blogosphere (And can someone please send me the URL for the blogosphere???).

Some more thoughts, since I’m on a roll: maybe the Big G or the Big Y! would step up to the plate and provide a huge infrastructure for us developers to work on top of. And maybe we could also get access to their runtime environments for certain projects. Hey, I’d love to have a reason to finish my Accord project and see that running on 15,000 servers. Google says that they want to organize the world’s information and make it useful. I can’t imagine a more fertile ground than all the source code in the world.

I think that the problem with SourceForge is that they are providing 1999-era functionality based on a business model that really is not much more than an afterthought after the collapse of their hardware business. Consequently, the core functionality in the SourceForge project hasn’t changed all that much in the past six years. All the projects on SourceForge are effectively partitioned… we don’t see any tools for figuring out code reuse possibilities or anything particularly innovative.

And there’s a lot that could be done if someone took the lid off of this metaphorical box.

StyleFeeder – Step 1: Start!

I’ve been working on a project for the past several months and I flipped the switch to make it live over the weekend.

http://www.stylefeeder.com/ is intended to be a useful free service for people who shop online for stylish stuff. If you’ve ever tried to buy clothes that are in any way original, you know how hard this is. If you want furnishings in your own home that don’t remind of you of the Pottery Barn table incident on Friends, then StyleFeeder will be right up your alley. Buying clothes from Gap, J. Crew and Banana Republic is easy, but not terribly satisfying. Big designers need to sell the same thing to lots of people – but do we all have the same design tastes? I can’t imagine why we should. There are a lot of small shops online that get drowned in the deluge of marketing and noise on the web and it is my hope that StyleFeeder will help open the doors to their storefronts.

The Web is supposed to equalize the David and Goliaths out there, but things seem to be homogenized more than anything else. Think of it this way: given infinite knowledge and infinite access to a range of choice in products that you are going to buy anyway, do you think that we’d all wear shoes by the same manufacturer and put the same coffee table in front of the sofa?

And the best way to find things that you like these days is through other humans that have overlapping preferences. Sure, computers and clever algorithms can help (and we’re going to build that into StyleFeeder in a very advanced and usable way, I assure you), but what you really need is to share the cool stuff that you find online with your friends. And you need to let a thousand other people watch and search through your networks. Navigation this way makes much more sense to me than pushing advertisements at people.

The reason why you may not have heard about StyleFeeder before now doesn’t mean that it’s been any kind of a secret… I’ve just been focusing on getting it functional. I heard once that Steve Jobs banned product pre-announcements at Apple (I don’t even know if this is true, actually!). And in that same spirit, I prefer to speak with actions rather than words. Words are cheap. Actions – well, code in this case – is not. About a month ago, I noticed that StyleHive, some company in San Francisco (Um… hello guys!), seemed to be doing something that sounds like it might be in the same space, based on the description on their homepage. But instead of an actual website, they seem to have a few paragraphs of badly written text and a mail form so they can tell you when they have their site built. There’s a famous quote in hacker circles: “We believe in rough consensus and running code.” And I believe in that, too. Mail forms don’t count as “running code,” in my opinion.

StyleFeeder is definitely not finished. I still look at it and wince at certain things, but I have these things written down and we’ll fix, tweak, twist, hack and push things into shape to make this effort better and better.

Invite all your friends and enjoy it! And please let me know what you think. Send me email, post comments on the blog or pick up the phone and call me if you have to!

The Michealangelo Code [sic]

You see, this is why I love Ubersite. I know of no other site on the web where I can read stuff like this:

The drive through central Paris was uneventful, taking him past the Arc De Triomphe, Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees, Chamonix ski resort and the Nice coastline. This was fairly redundant, as the Big European Cultural Icon was in fact next door to his hotel, but it’d make a great montage when the movie came out.

The rest is just as funny.

Google Web Services API Search?

After reading this article by Jon Udell, it made me wonder if Google will make a web services API search feature available. I noticed yesterday when I searched for ‘hibernate‘ (I offer no easy explanation as to why I searched for a website that I visit frequently… maybe Firefox integrated Google-search is easier than typing URLs at this point?)

Notice the “Documentation / Download / Getting started” links that appear beneath the Hibernate entry?

Is there no reason that Google could respond to a ‘currency convertor web service‘ search with some specifics like REST/SOAP/XML-RPC flavour, arguments, return values, perhaps a reliability metric and other web services that provide similar functionality?