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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

Posted on with Jess Lee and Peter Kim Frank

The dev.to codebase will go open-source on August 8

After mentioning a vague roadmap to open-sourcing the dev.to codebase, we've finally decided on a date for the launch: August 8 (8/8).

Eight is a very lucky number 🎱 πŸ€—

The overall benefits of open source code are numerous and fairly well-known, so I don't think I need to get into that too much right now for this audience. As such, I'll just mention a few key items of note:

  • The first release will consist of our code, not a framework for immediately building an instance of a platform like this. However, that is a perfectly valid use case in the future. If you are interested in contributing such that we can eventually help people stand up their own version of this platform for their own business or society, we'll definitely welcome that input. But don't try to do that on day one, it would be silly. I wrote a post a few months back about what this platform could be in this sense. Our core business will remain serving the developer community as best we can.

  • We are a for-profit company. We're working our butts off to grow a big, profitable dev network. I mention this because open source is sometimes conflated with non-profit. The transparency that comes with open-sourcing should add accountability and will help ensure we remain aligned with the community and un-evil as we grow.

  • The code will be released under the GNU General Public License. Similar platforms have released using this license and we believe our use cases and ideology fit the same model.

We still have lots to iron out before August 8. If you want early access right away to help us in the push, please fill out this form.

Thanks for being an awesome community! Happy to discuss and answer your questions in the comments.

Top comments (63)

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

We've had the consultancies Stride and Planet Argon help us with this process and they have been really awesome. I'll be writing much more on that front in the coming weeks.

The Corgibytes also helped us in the past and we are so grateful.

Of course thousands of devs have chipped in with thoughts, ideas, advice, or code to this point as well. We can't wait to take this journey with y'all to great places.

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vaidehijoshi profile image
Vaidehi Joshi • Edited on

Something to consider when you open source ➑️ oss.skylight.io ✨

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Yeah, can't wait! We're still using way too much memory but Skylight has been crucial in getting to the bottom of those issues.

Just sent you a GH invite to the repo in case there's anything you'd like to see from poking around.

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vaidehijoshi profile image
Vaidehi Joshi

Awesome! Can't wait to play around :)

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skatkov profile image
Stanislav(Stas) Katkov

You actually skipped most interesting part. As for-business venture, how exactly did you justify open sourcing your web app? :) I'm asking, because as a CTO I struggled to explain that to a non-techie colleagues and investors.

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nepeckman profile image
nepeckman

I can't speak for Ben or the Dev.to team, but I think the key to justifying open source is to explain that the business value isn't in the code, but elsewhere. Take Dev.to for example: the value of their business is in the community they created. They have a bunch of users creating content, and other users coming here to view it. Because they have this community, they can go to tech companies and ask for sponsorship. Those companies will pay Dev.to to get their products/services featured in this large developer community.

None of this changes after Dev.to is open sourced. Someone could create a clone, but why would people leave the original for the clone? The clone wouldn't have an existing community or content creators. As long as people are happy with the way the original is being managed, they won't leave. The clone could try to offer new features or functionality, but under GPL they are obligated to publish those changes. The original could incorporate any killer features, and ensure that people don't leave for the clone.

I hope this is a helpful example about why open sourcing Dev.to isn't bad for their business. If you can explain why the value of your business isn't tied into the code, I think you can justify open source to people with a non-tech background. Caveat: if your business value is tied to your code, then you probably cannot justify open source.

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skatkov profile image
Stanislav(Stas) Katkov

If your closing your explanation with 'open sourcing isn't bad for business', sounds like you don't have a good argument for 'why is it good for business?' or 'why should we waste our time on this?'.

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nepeckman profile image
nepeckman

Good point. The biggest draws are probably:
1) Code contributions. This is an optional part of open source, as you can open source a codebase without allowing contributions. But if you institute a code review process, you can allow technically inclined users to fix bugs. Even if you choose not to allow code contributions, your users may still help you find bugs by looking through the codebase.
2) Community. This is derivative of the previous point. If you have users looking through your codebase, submitting bug fixes and involving themselves in feature design, you have a group of users invested in your project. They are more likely to do things like add documentation, or evangelize your project to other people. You might even find new employees through this process.
3) It inspires confidence in your users. This is the biggest one. When you open source a project, this lets developers know they can trust this project. If they have an issue, they can look through the codebase and try to solve it. If they want to change part of the application to suite their own needs, they have that option. They can audit the code to make sure there isn't anything nefarious going on.

Now all three of these points are all centered around developers. But the non-developer users will still benefit from the work done by tech savvy users. And while your non-developer users may not fully grasp the benefits of open source, you can still include it in your marketing. Take the telegram website for example, which includes a small blurb on openness in their list of "Why switch to Telegram". If you're trying to differentiate your product with similar competing products, it may be beneficial to say something about how your product is more transparent and open with your users.

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nektro profile image
Meghan (she/her)

Woohoo! πŸŽ‰

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yechielk profile image
Yechiel Kalmenson

πŸ™Œ

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chrisvasqm profile image
Christian Vasquez

My face when August 8 arrives:

surprised

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joshcheek profile image
Josh Cheek

Super excited about this :) I don't want to stand up my own blog, it's just so useful to be able to reference the code of tools I use often. And when there's bugs and missing features, closed source leaves you with no recourse except to report them (and often, even that is missing).

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

That’s great to hear, you’ve been such a great help from the first time you crossed our path Josh.

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ahmadawais profile image
Ahmad Awais ⚑️

This is crazy! I'm happy that you're moving in this direction. Also to be one of those who influenced you to do this. πŸ’―

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Yeah!!

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Yeah, we're no geniuses, it's basically just another web app but we do think every open codebase is a great learning experience and eventually I feel like with enough eyes we truly could make this a fantastic technical project.

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_nicovillanueva profile image
Nico

The fastest-loading, most optimized "just another app" out there. You beautiful geniuses.

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antogarand profile image
Antony Garand

This is great!

What is the current architecture of the project?

I've seen that the Backend is Ruby on Rails, but I'm not sure about the rest.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

It's Preact on the front-end, but doesn't act like a heavy-handed framework. Just sprinkles. We have a lot of vanilla JS too which we'd consider as legacy as we move things more to Webpack land and delete some of the old stuff.

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thangchung profile image
Thang Chung

If it is possible, could you publish the technical stack somewhere?

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jvarness profile image
Jake Varness

Woo hoo! My favorite website gets a little better each week :)

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domitriusclark profile image
Domitrius

This is rad! Congrats Dev.to

(PS: just received my complimentary contributor sticker pack! you guys and gals rule)

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noncototient profile image
Bo • Edited on

Why? You are just going to make it easier for people to make clones of your site?

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notriddle profile image
Michael "notriddle" Howell

Yeah, but dev.to already has a mass of users on it, and it's run well enough that there's no real reason to try to fork it.

What makes a lot of sense, though, is running a "clone" of dev.to that isn't targeted at software developers. Most of dev's functionality is just a generic community blogging platform with an emphasis on performance.

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adambrandizzi profile image
Adam Brandizzi

Indeed. I guess it's the culture and the community that brings many people here. You would have to build that elsewhere, which is hard. But even if done, I don't think it would really affect dev.to. The major risks do not come from the outside but are internal to the community.

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noncototient profile image
Bo

Great points. Still, I see the benefits of open source but I’d be reluctant to open source core parts of an application is my money maker.

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notriddle profile image
Michael "notriddle" Howell • Edited on

It worked for Reddit. There are several forks of the site, but none of them have significantly put a dent in it because the audience is on reddit.com.

Unless Dev adds Mastadon-esque federation, nobody's going to choose a separate instance over the mothership unless they have no choice. For example, stuff that violates the CoC (voat.co) or their needs require them to do significant mods to the site (lesswrong.com) or they specifically want a different audience (news.ycombinator.com or lobste.rs).

The last two are really funny, since they truly prove that it doesn't matter if you open source your codebase or not. It's not that hard to code up a clone of Dev or Reddit.

note: You'll notice that the Reddit source code repo I linked to isn't updated any more. Reddit is no longer open source. I assume it has something to do with their proprietary ranking and anti-spam algos getting harder and harder to keep separate from their "core".

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johand profile image
Johan

πŸŽ‰ 🍻 🍻 🍻

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maxart2501 profile image
Massimo Artizzu

Woah, this is awesome, Ben! πŸ™Œ
Great move! I'll be happy to contribute!

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern Author

Yay!

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