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Warning.

This discussion took place during the Stack Exchange 1.0 days, when FogCreek sold Stack Exchange licenses for a fee.

It is worth noting that Stack Exchange licenses are still being sold for intranet use.

Important Caveattm: this is something we are merely discussing that may happen more than one year from now, if it happens at all. Bearing that IMPORTANT CAVEAT in mind, please read on.

Joel is convinced that open-sourcing Stack Overflow, in any way, shape, or form, will destroy the business model of StackExchange (pushing prices down to hosting commodity levels) and possibly the Stack Overflow family of sites as well (fragmentation & dissipation of audience via army of clone sites).

  1. Does open sourcing Stack Overflow even make sense at all? What do we (stackoverflow.com llc) get out of it? What does the community get out of it? Is it "win-win"? Or does someone lose?

  2. Are there "hybrid" models of open sourcing that could work? Rather than treating this as an "all or nothing" scenario, is there a way to open source parts of what we're doing, or restrict licensing so that we don't compete with ourselves in the hosted StackExchange part of the business?

  3. Aren't there other companies pursuing open source and hosting businesses at the same time? Such as Six Apart and Movable Type? I'm not sure how applicable this is to hosting business models, but certainly Slashdot and Reddit have gone open source. DotNetNuke also runs a similar business model, apparently.

  4. Won't we be competing with open source versions of ourselves anyway in the long term? There are certainly already open source Stack Overflow clones, and lots of open source FogBugz competition and clones. Over time, won't the competitive pressure increase from the continual improvement of open source copies of what we do? Would it make sense to do it ourselves so we control it?

  5. Could there be "enterprisey" closed source and "public" open source parts of the business? I've always said that StackExchange is going to have to fork because their private small, medium, and large business audience will want very different things than the public internet audience we serve. Wouldn't this be one way to segment the "free as in whatever the heck it is we're calling free these days" open-source dev work from the value-add closed source product?

Thoughts? Feelings? ... ponies?

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4  
Sort of reminds me of KnowledgeTree (knowledgetree.com), which they open sourced the code but kept all the enterprise-y stuff under closed sourced and only available in their commercial editions. Having used their OSS version for close to 3 years and seeing them thriving, probably it's worth looking to see how they had packaged their deals. –  Seh Hui Leong Jul 7 '09 at 10:57
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Just keep in mind that cloning SO is so easy. Probably a month of work. As we all know, cloning is much easier than building the thing in the first place. –  LeakyCode Jul 7 '09 at 11:38
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i'd say 6-8 weeks... –  geocoin Jul 7 '09 at 14:45
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@Merdad: There is a clone of the engine underway, as I recall. I believe they've been working on it for over a month (at least) and they are still quite always behind. Fact is, Jeff and Joel have set a standard with these sites. –  Frank V Jul 7 '09 at 18:13
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Like you mentioned in a blog post, tons developers on this site could clone it in a weekend if they wanted. Like you mentioned the level of polish SO has would be hard to achieve in a weekend, but making it open source will lead to blatant copies and bad implementations that would deface the reputation for excellence SO has. Maybe what you could do to give back to the community is have a weekly/monthly blog post that details techniques you use and goes over code. Blog posts like this would in a nerdy way be really exciting. I know I would be looking foreward to it each week. –  teh_noob Jul 11 '09 at 23:51
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@teh_noob: "Maybe what you could do to give back to the community..." IMO, StackOverflow (and friends) is already a valuable gift to the community. –  P Daddy Sep 4 '09 at 1:19

64 Answers 64

I wouldn't worry about it until you start having actual competitors, excluding of course Chinese knock-offs.

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Or if you can let users create their own stack site on your system. Like Google Groups, but now it's Jeff Stacks.

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1  
They are already allowing this: stackexchange.com –  random Oct 26 '09 at 8:54

Could there be "enterprisey" closed source and "public" open source parts of the business? I've always said that StackExchange is going to have to fork because their private small, medium, and large business audience will want very different things than the public internet audience we serve. Wouldn't this be one way to segment the "free as in whatever the heck it is we're calling free these days" open-source dev work from the value-add closed source product?

Personally, I think open-sourcing part of the tool amd not all of it is a Bad Thing™. It's why I won't even take a second look at a lot of "Open Core" toolsets (like Zenoss) - either the whole operation should be open and available, or none.

I've wanted to be able to use the SO engine for a knowledge-base system for a while - with the caveat being that any authenticated user can post or view a question, but only "special" users can answer (in the context of providing a corporate KB for software tools, for example).

I'd be willing to use SE, but honestly the hosted costs are just way too high. For the amount we'd spend in a year, I can have a couple developers build a knock-off that works well enough for our purposes.

This is even more true in the context of having a Q&A site for FLOSSS projects on which I am involved at some level.

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My first reaction was ... " No, no, no, hell f**ing NO !! " ..... , but then the point number 4 gave me real long pause.... and I haven't recovered from it yet ;)

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protected by Joel Coehoorn Feb 2 '11 at 20:18

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