Working at SourceForge

I’ve been at SourceForge for a couple of months now, it’s been great, the work is surprisingly fun and rewarding. There’s a local office, and so I actually get to g and hang out with smart people whenever I want. I can still work from home, but having someplace to go in to has been a refreshing change.

I haven’t gotten to know many people outside the engineering team in Dexter, but they are great guys.

There’s lots of good stuff happening here, support for bazar, mercurial, git, trac, and other options on SourceForge itself, improved feeds, and other API’s for getting at SF data, etc. But I’m only peripherally aware of all that at the moment because I was hired to work on “totally new stuff” which is written in Python.

What I’m working on

Our first new project is a site called FossFor.Us, and it was the vision for this site, and the team that is working on this and other new stuff, that sold me on the coming to work for Sourceforge. It’s written in Django, and it’s been my first really large Django project, and while the experience has been pretty positive, there have been a number of things that have renewed my commitment to TurboGears development — but that’s a blog post for another day.

The backstory to the FossFor.Us site is that open source project hosting providers (Sourceforge and it’s recent competitors) have traditionally been pulled in two very different directions by two very different sets of users:

  • developers of open source software
  • and people who just want to.

And that tension has held us back in the past, we have to serve everybody with the same portal, and it ends up not serving either community as well as it should. But since developers are the most vocal users, it’s been the second class of user that’s been most neglected.

foss_blog_image

These people are just looking to get things done, and don’t care about the “project” part of open source software, they are, at least at first, only interested in the “product.” In many ways the Free and Open Source Software community has not served these people well.

Fossfor.us is in it’s first incarnation an attempt to create a window on the free software world, that’s just about finding and using software. But in a larger sense it’s an attempt to help us as a community to connect with potential users better.

I think connecting FOSS geeks and users is actually important

It’s important because people aren’t aware that there are free options, and are paying for software they can’t afford. There’s a prototypical user (based on a real person) that we talk about a lot, who’s a single mom, has an old laptop, and struggles week to week to pay her bills, but who bought Photoshop, because “that’s how you edit photos.” Her family could have used that money to more productive ends, but because she needed to edit photos, and didn’t know about the free alternatives all those opportunities are just lost.

Of course the same thing is true of small business owners, who could use free software to reduce their “overhead” costs, and actually spend money on creating things people love. Free software has the potential to lubricate the wheels of the economy, encourage entrepreneurial activity, and enrich people’s lives.

All of this is to say I think fossfor.us is a way to serve the world by making the product of all the open source developer’s labor more easily available and more accessible to real people. And when my mom actually used it to find some software a couple weeks ago, I knew we’d done something right.

10 Responses to “Working at SourceForge”


  1. 1Max Ischenko

    re: “normal” users on SF.net. It’s very true, just read this article: http://www.kalzumeus.com/2009/03/07/how-to-successfully-compete-with-open-source-software/

  2. fossfor.us looks pretty nice. I think it would be really important to localize the site, so can you shed some light on your plans for that?

  3. I look forward to your blogpost about working with Django for a large website.

  4. Sounds like you’re enjoying the job, Mark. I’m happy that’s working out for you.

    But I’m *really* happy reading your description of fossfor.us. An excellent good idea and, whilst similar things have been attempted before, I think the particular focus on the ideal user you’ve described is something that’s been missing in other attempts. I hope it takes off.

  5. 5Rene Dudfield

    wow. The community, and the project are the product. I think this site misses the point, and will drive more developers away from sourceforge.

    Other sf competitors are making it easier for people to get more involved with projects – this goes the other way.

    I’ve never been a fan of separate user and dev mailing lists for example, so I’m obviously not the one this is aimed at.

    Remember one of the main motivators for projects becoming open source – is to collaborate with people.

    Just my 0.01 euro.

    cu!

  6. 6Jason

    Howdy Mark,
    I think fossfor.us is a great idea.

    I have noticed that when it comes to the business arena, there are two classes of folks who aren’t using FOSS:
    1) those who genuinely do not know enough to even know what to ask or where for FOSS
    2) folks who’s pride and foolishness get in the way of pragmatic business decisions and result in choosing solutions because of cajoling and ‘box art’ type of marketing

    The first, ignorance, can be solved though education. How do you believe FOSS can gain a better adoption for the second half troublemakers? How do you convince folks to make wise decisions in the face of what they may see as the chance to be ridiculed for being idealistic?

    I applaud greatly these efforts.

  7. Rene,

    This does not replace SourceForge, nor does it remove the need for, or the ability to build community. Also, there’s no reason for FossFor.us to be limited to only SourceForge projects.

    So, I’m, not sure that we’re talking on the same level. I certainly think it’s important to grow and engage users in community, but that’s not what SourceForge does. My mom will never understand and participate as a developer on SourceForge, and I think that we need to do a better job of serving her.

    And, yea you are obviously not the one this is aimed at, but I know a lot of people who are intimidated by the traditional open source communication systems and they either become silent non-participants, or they leave the community altogether. Fossfor.us is just one step along the way of growing the community beyond just the “technical elite” that are served well by the current tools.

    So, yea there is more to do, and we have aspirations to do more in the future too. ;)

  8. Jason,

    I think there are a couple of different approaches to the second group. Because I think that it’s really a more multifacited problem. Some people will respond to better marketing, and Fossfor.us is designed to encourage the production of better “box level” marketing materials. It’s editable wiki-style, with some editorial help along the way, and it encourages better marketing than most open source projects do on their own.

    But there’s also the type of person who’s been scared away by FUD, and we need to combat that with clear evidence that the perpetrators of fear are distorting the truth.

    And then there’s just the pragmatic majority that never ever wants to be the first on the block to try something new, and for them we need case studies that show other people and buisnesses like them being successful with our tools.

    Fossfor.us is really targeted at helping people find free and open source software, and at helping to improve the marketing of that software both by providing a more “back of the box” like browsing experience, and by incorporating reviews, and web 2.0 style sharing stuff.

    But others have done good work on uncovering the FUD and showing it the light of day. I guess that the case study thing is still not as well served as it should be, though some of that is happening organically already.

  9. hey..i was wondering why people choose to opensource?
    like fossfor.us ?
    maybe most people just use it rather than give more improvement for it…..
    good to see u ,and do u have feeds for this blog cause i wanna whether i can get it on my google reader..lol

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