One of the most frustrating parts of being in open source circles is battling the conventional wisdom in the Valley that open source is just another way to do marketing. It’s complicated by the fact that being a strong open source participant can greatly aid marketing efforts, so it’s not as if marketing activities are completely unrelated to open source processes. But then something happens that so aptly demonstrates what we mean when we say that Silicon Valley has largely been a poisonous partner for open source efforts. Which brings me to this week’s brouhaha around a silly valley startup looking to “Make money fast!” by glomming onto the success of open source projects.
To quote from the article:
After being hired by Kite, @abe33 made an update to Minimap. The update was titled “Implement Kite promotion,” and it appeared to look at a user’s code and insert links to related pages on Kite’s website. Kite called this a useful feature. Programmers said it was not useful and was therefore just an ad for an unrelated service, something many programmers would consider a violation of the open-source spirit.
It’s the “stealing underpants” business model all over again.
- Get users and “move the needle”
Step 1 above is why we actually have valley poseurs who unironically refer to themselves as “growth hackers.” Only in the valley.
The really sad part of this is that the methodology outlined above is terrible, not just because it’s unethical, but because it’s counterproductive to what Kite wants to accomplish. As I’ve mentioned countless times before, a project is not a product, and trying to turn it into one kills the project. The best way to make money on open source is to, big surprise, make a great product that incorporates it in a way that adds value to the customer. In this example, this means taking projects like minimap and autocomplete-python, producing commercial versions of them, and make them part of an existing product or offer them up as separate downloads – from the company site or part of a commercial distribution.
The worst part of all this is there are still investors and business folks who think that doing is Kite did is the only way to make money from an open source project. It’s not. It’s a terrible maneuver from both an ethics as well as product development standpoint. It’s once again conflating open source with marketing, which is one of the reasons I started this site – it’s an unforced error and should be part of any “open source product 101” curriculum.