The best place to host your open-source project

Where you host your open-source project has much to do with how much control you want to exert over it. Control can mean much more in terms of sales....

Just a few short years ago, there was one open-source hosting service worth considering: Sourceforge.net. It was by no means perfect (Alfresco's analytics, for example, have been down for over a month on Sourceforge, with no apparent urgency to fix the problem), but it was good enough, free, and everyone else used it.

Today, there are multiple options, including Google Code, Microsoft CodePlex, CodeHaus, GitHub, and, interestingly, Canonical's Launchpad.

Yes, Launchpad. Launchpad is the brainchild of Mark Shuttleworth's Ubuntu team, but it has aspirations beyond hosting the Ubuntu code, aspirations that recently attracted MySQL to move its code over to the Launchpad service.

I don't recall Launchpad starting with this third-party code hosting premise in mind, but it certainly has gone there fast. OStatic has an excellent write-up on its new features, and whether they're compelling enough to put your open-source project there.

For a new project, it's definitely an interesting choice. But the larger question is whether an established project - especially commercial projects - gets adequate value from any hosting service to justify hosting with a prefabricated hosting service. SugarCRM moved from Sourceforge to hosting its own project, and other companies have done the same. (My own company is in the process of exploring options.)

Why host your own project? Why take on that cost?

Control and visibility. Given the importance of customer conversions, it becomes hugely valuable information to know that it takes, say, eight months on average for someone to buy the "Enterprise" version of your code after downloading the software. With Sourceforge et al., you have no way of connecting the dots between download and purchase. But if you host your downloads, you can suddenly link a download to a purchase using marketing automation software like Loopfuse.

That's power. It's not power because it gives you the ability to monitor would-be buyers, which would raise privacy issues. Besides, who has time for that? No, it's powerful because it gives a holistic, aggregate view of the routes people take to becoming customers. It might suggest, for example, that installation of your project is too hard as there's an abnormally large drop-off in user activity immediately after the download.

It can tell you many things, but the key is to be able to glean insight from the earliest stage of your interaction with a potential customer, and that means you have to host your own downloads. Otherwise, you have no idea how or when a would-be customer downloads your code, which makes the "why" they download it less interesting, because it becomes less actionable.

As open source becomes more commercial, someone is going to need to step up to offer such visibility into these hosted services, or we're going to find the hosted services proving useful for ever decreasing amounts of time.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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