Last Updated on April 15, 2021 by Jason
It was almost the end of the millennium, and people were getting excited. The dotcom goldrush was in full swing, and it was set to last a long time.
Linux first started riding the wave around this time and was earning a reasonable profit selling computers with Linux installed on them, replacing often costly Unix boxes. IBM and Dell hadn’t yet shot onto the scene, so Linux still had a shot at doing alright.
As a result, Linux’s public offering was looked at with optimism. When the company finally did go public, their stock grew exponentially from $30 to almost $240 in just one day. This is an eye-watering 700% return. Around the same time, the company had a crazy wild idea, and wanted to see if they could pull it off.
They decided to launch a website to host the work that had been done already by open-source software developers. Back in those days, the website would be free. This means that they hadn’t quite figured out how this website was going to pay for itself and offering something like this to virtually anyone didn’t seem like a great payday.
However, if it involved technology, it had to somehow be profitable at some point, right?
Linux had a brainstorm and threw a few names in the ring. Finally, the name they landed on was SourceForge. When they opened the website at the end of 1999, the growth was reasonable, if not modest. At the time, the idea of open source was only known by those who were nerdy about technology. The website offered a plethora of free tools, but by the end of the year only a small crowd of projects had registered for them.
By the end of 2000, this had changed. The website now had thousands of projects registered, and at the end of 2001, there were almost 30,000. Go all the way up to 2007, and SourceForge was now a worldwide website that is a goldmine to open-source developers.
What’s more, this is the place to be seen if you are working on an open-source project and want to find a way to network. It is geeky developers chatting with the other geeky developers, rubbing elbows, sharing, showing off, and watching what other people are building. It’s a worldwide community of coder geeks, hoping that they are in the process of building the next Java.
Of course, there are other sources for open-source developers, but for some reason, SourceForge has ‘forged’ ahead and managed to amass more than 1.6 million registered users. Another thing that’s interesting about this website is that it is comprised largely of volunteers.
This means that the majority of the developers that use the website are there for the pleasure and joy of coding. Additionally, this free software is used hundreds of times every day for highly commercial use.
So, despite some people taking the money and running, SourceForge continues to be an open door for people who are green in the open-source development industry and want a community that they can be a part of.
The Blue Period for SourceForge
Just like everything else, there are downsides to obtaining a lot of success in a short amount of time. Because tens of thousands of developers suddenly set up camp on this website, it began to get overwhelmed.
The infrastructure started to break under the weight of so many developers. Some became disenchanted, and the issue was that the parent company lacked the funds to fix all the issues.
Linux was suffering from vanishing revenue as well. The era of dotcom had gone, and HP and IBM were monopolizing the industry and making a healthy profit. So, despite what you might think, there was a period between 2003 and 2005 when things were really bad.
The servers of the website were really slow, and basic things about the site broke completely and stayed broken for a long time, without the parent company even knowing that they were broken, or that there was an issue.
In fact, one of the issues that stood out amongst the others was that the site’s tracker that counted downloads wasn’t working. This might seem like a pedantic thing to be worried about, but when you aren’t making any money as a website, being able to keep track of statistics like how many downloads you are getting is pretty essential.
A lack of staff meant that solving these issues was almost impossible.
The Golden Years
Then, something amazing happened in 2006. SourceForge’s parent company celebrated its first ever profitable quarter. This cash injection boosted morale on a corporate level and the parent company saw it as a funding boost. The staff count was able to be increased to 30 and the infrastructure was able to be addressed and fixed to keep up with growing demand.
The statistics problem was fixed, and things were scaled up in general, so that major improvements were made to the website. SourceForge was even able to land a deal with Google, to let developers place ads on the websites’ pages. Of course, this meant that the website could now bring money in that could then be put back into the business.
SourceForge has something that not a lot of other websites out there have: the wide-open nature of the community.
This means that contributing to the site is as easy as sending an email and offering your services. The bottom line is that new people are always welcome if they’re willing to do the work. SourceForge embraces open source on more than one level, which means that anyone can see the code, and anyone can alter it, and membership in the community is open as well.
This approach might not have worked for other websites out there, but it’s definitely worked for this one, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why despite setbacks in the past, SourceForge continues to be a popular place for open-source developers to get creative and develop relationships within the industry.