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When Good Open-Source Projects Go Bad

  • June 19, 2013

This blog isn’t going to focus on the mistakes that are made when developing open-source projects, but will focus on what happens when people or organizations try to commercialize an open source project. This happens all the time when companies acquire open-source projects.

What happens to your open-source project when you sell it?

Often times when these acquisitions are made there is a forking of the technology because the open-source community wants to keep the project running outside the influence of the organization that bought the project. This becomes a bigger issue because with open-source projects there is a question as to who has copyright ownership. The open-source community will often continue work where the project left off before being acquired. The conflict comes in when a company purchased a project and then it continues to be developed by the open-source community sometimes at a faster pace than the company can keep up with.

When the open-source community feels that a larger organization isn’t focused on their needs after they have acquired an open-source project they will repeat the pattern of forking and moving on. This is one way the open-source community fights back against these larger organizations.

Although these issues can arise there are some instances where open-source projects can survive an acquisition relatively intact. Generally when a company can provide the resources that the project needs the project can survive. If you can pay a team of people to work full time on developing the capabilities and produce a commercial project you might be able to make an acquisition work. There are two important things to remember in an acquisition, you can’t alienate the open-source community and you have to find the right balance between open-source and commercialization.

Do you have any examples of an acquisition of an open-source project that was positive?

*photo credit: hastac.org

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