Many Hats, Part Four: Repository

Yes, it’s been a while since I last posted an installment of our Many Hats of SourceForge.net series! In the time between installments, I took a road trip where I had the opportunity to meet with Zenoss, dimdim, and the FSF, and I spoke at FSOSS in Toronto. But now I’m back, and am pleased to present this post concerning SourceForge.net’s role as an open source repository.

Back in the day, the open source community’s data could be found in many different locations. Sometimes what you needed lived in some university student’s ~/public_html folder, or on a server in someone’s garage, and you couldn’t necessarily expect any degree of perpetuity. Worse, I remember some occasions where a new version of something I needed was released that didn’t work and an older version was no longer available.

The creators of SourceForge.net were interested in, among other things, providing a place where the open source community could consolidate its historical data and preserve it forever. It may not be common knowledge, but one of the proposed names for SourceForge was ColdStorage. As in “put it into Cold Storage and we’ll unthaw it later when we need it.” Also, the name of the codebase that powers our website is still called “alexandria”, after the library. A good open source repository should be a safe place to put stuff you care about (and not prone to fires like the one in Alexandria!)

It may come as a slight shock, but many of the 150k projects on SourceForge.net aren’t undergoing active development. In some cases, the project has a small audience, a very narrow scope, or doesn’t really require further development. For example, you could say all three about my project, Multidig, which is really only useful if you’re a DNS admin who constantly needs to check on the proliferation of your records across the net. I’m not keeping a web server up just to host it, but I want it to be freely available. Without SourceForge.net, this relatively unimportant and marginally useful piece of technology would have utterly vanished about 6 years ago. Wouldn’t that be a pity if someone might have found it useful somehow?

SourceForge.net might not necessarily encourage and enable more efficient development for projects like mine, help them grow into mature projects or products, or distribute them worldwide; instead it ensures they’re available in case someone wants them. And, generally, people do: even our 60,000th most active project has daily downloads — the “long tail“, indeed!

Coming up next: sounding board. See you then!

Ross