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I love Stack Overflow, and I wish a vast profit to the people who created it.

But I worry about creating indispensible privately held repositories of knowledge.

Google appears to be going evil. Facebook appears to have been evil from the start.

What guarantees do we have that Stack Overflow won't become the same ghastly sort of thing?

Wikipedia appears to be staying good (apart from sticking those ads everywhere). I think mainly because everything it is can be easily copied and re-used by anyone else.

In the terminology of Free Software, can Stack Overflow be forked?

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migrated from Feb 7 '12 at 13:18

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

This is marvelous. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 7 '12 at 12:54
See this link on the footer of every page the data is not a "privately held repository of knowledge". – ChrisF Feb 7 '12 at 13:00
What is this I don't even – jadarnel27 Feb 7 '12 at 13:41
Almost +1 for thinking about the issue, but a clear -1 for not even trying to find out the facts first. – Joachim Sauer Feb 7 '12 at 13:55
Ads! Pay to view! Subscriptions! Blackmail against Unicorns and other cut-throat villany! This is StackOverflow (ran by Stack Exchange), so anything like that would go against their ethics and mission statement. – tombull89 Feb 7 '12 at 13:59
I always thought of Stack Overflow as Chaotic Good. – David Feb 7 '12 at 14:17
Two effing years you've been here, and you asked this on SO? – Won't Feb 7 '12 at 14:57
Yes Stack Overflow is evil, and planning how to infect you with viruses, steal you identity, and eat your cookies. – Shadow Wizard Nov 26 '15 at 15:31
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I don't know what's evil, but I'll answer your last line.

StackExchange doesn't guarantee the right to fork: the software is proprietary. However, posts are free content, because they use a free license, the cc-by-sa (not just "a Creative Commons license"). Importantly, a data dump is available on Internet Archive and updated irregularly (at intervals of about 6 months). So, our posts mostly grow the digital commons rather than a private property.

The XML data dumps will qualify as open data if they are an open format:

which places no restrictions, monetary or otherwise, upon its use and can be fully processed with at least one free/libre/open-source software tool

There is some documentation on the database schema but I'm pretty sure StackExchange doesn't provide any free software to parse the dumps. However, according to the comparison of Q&A software, Askbot is (the only?) one free software which can import StackExchange data. Someone should verify whether it works.

For comparison (as you mentioned them) Wikimedia projects run entirely on free/libre software, MediaWiki and others, with open CVS and thousands of software contributors, and data dumps are provided every 2-4 weeks: the right to fork is guaranteed to a rather high level.

As for Wikimedia Foundation's ads, you can read their financial reports. For Stack Exchange Inc., see business model: there is some information on investors at but valuation and revenue are secret.

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The site is owned by StackExchange Inc; but the data is under a creative commons license, thus is not privately-held at all! Hence preventing the whole evil repository thing.

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