Many Hats, Part Three: Distributor

Last week I wrote about SourceForge.net’s role as an open source incubator. This week’s “hat” covers the services we provide to the vast majority of our audience: our role as an open source technology distributor.

Like I hinted in my last post, we push a lot of downloads. Our internal statistics system tells us that we pushed almost 64 million downloads in the month of September, and Google Analytics tells us that we pushed them to 231 distinct countries. Our global reach, paired with a stats system that allows projects to track their downloads over time, makes SourceForge.net a good place to put stuff that you want people to notice and consume. But this consumer traffic is important for another reason.

SourceForge.net isn’t just a for-profit company, it’s a publicly held for-profit company. I don’t want to understate the commitment we have to the open source community by saying this, but our success depends on how much money we’re able to generate. And how do we make money? Conceptually, it’s simple: the more visitors we get, the more advertising we show. The more advertising we show, the more money we generate to pay the bills and keep our investors happy. There are various complexities, but that’s pretty much it.

In the month of September, Google Analytics indicated that we had almost 26 million distinct visitors. If you assume that there are probably not 26 million people doing development on SourceForge.net every month, which is reasonable considering that our registered user count is just over 1.7 million, it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of those visitors are here to consume — or at least they’re here to do things they don’t need to log in to do. To state it more plainly, our consumer traffic pays the bills.

A lot of the site improvements we’ve made in the past few years have reflected that reality, too: updates to our Software Map and Search facilities, smarter download mirror redirection, and new platform-based download pages have all been implemented specifically to optimize the consumer experience. Even if we still have a lot of work left to do, that audience is probably happier now than they have ever been.

While SourceForge.net can best be described as a “distributor” from a financial perspective, though, its ability to make money there depends on how well it performs its other roles. If SourceForge.net stops being a good open source catalyst or incubator, there will no longer be technology built here that we can make money distributing — and if SourceForge.net stops being a good distributor, we won’t be able to pay for the infrastructure required to catalyze or incubate. Sometimes it feels like we’re the fulcrum in the balance between supply and demand, development and consumption, altruism and enterprise…and maybe that’s a good place to be.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where I discuss our role as an open source repository. Until then!

Cya,
Ross