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First, take a look at Shapado, an open source clone of StackExchange.

While the site is far from mature, it is fast growing and active (if there are other similar clones, this question can refer to them as well). You can get a free, hosted site "in 8 seconds", and there are already some features there that I would like to see in StackExchange.

In light of this, does the answer to the question about open sourcing Stack Overflow change? I think that if Stack Overflow doesn't open up soon, Shapado and its clones might build a large enough development community behind it, and Stack Overflow might never catch up. If Stack Overflow opens up now, yes, it will cut down costs. But it will make the Shapado effort almost obsolete, because (if it's done right) devs will prefer to branch off Stack Overflow instead of Shapado.

Is it better open source soon or lose the battle later?

I believe this question should be asked, because open source clones have a decent chance of overtaking Stack Exchange (even if not Stack Overflow), and the business goals and code bases of the two projects are (very?) similar. If StackExchange will be at risk of being overrun by a clone, won't this be reason enough to open source it (and Stack Overflow along with it)?

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Why the downvote? It's a legitimate question. There is so much 'SO love' that it sometimes it becomes hate for its competitors. –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 5:11
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@ripper: Downvotes on Meta sometimes merely express disagreement, it's nothing personal. (And it wasn't me, btw, I'm a bit ambivalent towards this question, but I'd almost call it a duplicate of the other.) –  Gnome Apr 9 '10 at 5:14
    
@Gnome, this is a discussion, not a feature request. I take a downvote here to mean 'this discussion is not interesting' (note that I did not propose open sourcing, so I don't expect votes on this post to reflect how much people aggree that SO should be open source). –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 5:18
    
@ripper: Well, I have no idea exactly why they downvoted, they'd have to respond, but it's common for new MSO users to misunderstand downvotes (I did, too, way back when). –  Gnome Apr 9 '10 at 5:21
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A downvote may merely mean, "no." Some people treat them that way on meta. Don't take it personally. –  Adam Davis Apr 9 '10 at 5:37
    
@Pollyanna, I don't take it personally, but I think these people are wrong. They can think the question itself is interesting (or be neutral about it) and post "no" as an answer. Downvoting hurts the question itself (downranks). –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 5:46
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You are focusing too much on stackexchange. If you don't want this closed as "Not stackoverflow related" I'd suggest you focus on how shapado affects SO exclusively, and avoid mentioning the fact that Shapado really doesn't compete with SO, but really only competes with SE. –  Adam Davis Apr 9 '10 at 5:50
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@ripper - You can think whatever you want about downvoting. You can post a new question and encourage people to vote according to your prescription. It doesn't matter to me. Complaining about downvotes, however, will only result in more downvotes. –  Adam Davis Apr 9 '10 at 5:52
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They have a gold badge called "celebrity", awarded for "getting more than 100 followers". Do I need to say more? –  balpha Apr 9 '10 at 7:05
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@balpha: Looking through their list earlier, I suddenly realized how much thought was put into SO's badges... –  Gnome Apr 9 '10 at 7:45
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@Gnoupi: My point exactly. I think SO has proven that leaving away the Facebook ideas is a good thing for sites like this. –  balpha Apr 9 '10 at 8:26
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I think it's a great decision not to Open Source SOFU. The web would be riddled with "Set-up-your-own" ruins within two months, and seeing as they all resemble it in design, those ruins would reflect negatively on the trilogy. –  Pëkka Apr 9 '10 at 9:46
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Tagging it [discussion] doesn't mean it's immune to downvotes. –  random Apr 9 '10 at 9:52
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@waffles - how is "champion" awarded? –  Gnoupi Apr 9 '10 at 10:04
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'A downvote should mean "this is a bad question", not "I disagree with you"' Not on meta. Why? Because meta isn't primarily a tool for getting information, it is a tool for discussing, arguing over, and agitating for tweaks to the SOFU system. The answer to your question, BTW, is "There have been open source clones for more than a year and it doesn't seem to matter much.". –  dmckee Apr 9 '10 at 14:02
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6 Answers

Will a clone force Stack Overflow to open source?

Wait a minute, did Open Office force Microsoft Office to open source?

Look at how long it took SO to overtake expert-sex-change, and SO had a WAY superior platform for at least a year before then.

Building communities is hard, the software in lots of ways is the easy part.

So, if history is anything to go by, for anybody to steal the SO community they would need a WAY superior product and lots of time. Shapedo is not on par with SO and the magic 8 ball does not tell me when they will be.

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As I noted in the edit question, I don't think an open source platform will ever compete with Stack Overflow and its community, exactly because of the issues you raise. However, I do think it might compete with Stack Exchange, and the common business interests between SO & SE might make it worth their while to open source SO. –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 8:47
    
So I guess your question is better suited for meta SE. Keep in mind SE is yet to turn a profit and giving away its core competency before it even started charging $$ is something that makes not too much sense. –  waffles Apr 9 '10 at 9:28
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Will a clone force Stack Overflow to open source?

No.

In light of Shapado, does the answer to the question about open sourcing Stack Overflow change?

No.

I think that if Stack Overflow doesn't open up soon, Shapado and its clones might build a large enough development community behind it, and Stack Overflow might never catch up.

It's within the realm of possibility. But it doesn't matter - shapado isn't competing with SO, it's competing with SE. Once a shapado hosted programming site gains the community that SO has, then you might raise this question. Until then there's really no competition to speak of.

If Stack Overflow opens up now, yes, it will cut down costs. But it will make the Shapado effort almost obsolete, because (if it's done right) devs will prefer to branch off Stack Overflow instead of Shapado.

No. The microsoft stack, on which SO is built, is expensive. Even if SO opens up, many people will choose other solutions simply due to expense of running a costly architecture.

Is it better open source soon or lose the battle later?

That's a perfect logical fallacy. Their success later on does not depend on them open sourcing or not. In fact, I believe there's a good argument to be made that the two are orthogonal to each other - they will succeed or fail based on other things completely unrelated to their software license, and they could change their software license or not and it will not affect their success now or later.

If StackExchange will be at risk of being overrun by a clone, won't this be reason enough to open source it?

Of course not. Just because the world has PHP, Ruby, Python, mono, etc, does that cause microsoft to throw up their hands and say, "Ah well, it was a good run, but we're obviously not providing any value to our customers in regards to ASP, .NET, etc, so we'll just close up shop."

What chain of logic can possibly suggest that two similar products must either compete on the same software license, or the open source license will ultimately win market share? I could go on and give thousands of comparisons between OS and commercial software, and show that BOTH may coexist very well, and in fact the competition is good for both of them.

No, SO will not be affected by shapado.

Whether SE is affected is a discussion for the SE site.

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+1 for writing what I cannot on a friday afternoon –  davidsleeps Apr 9 '10 at 6:01
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@david: Friday afternoon, already? How come the kangaroo cowboys always get there first!? –  Jørn Schou-Rode Apr 9 '10 at 7:00
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I really don't think that even 'Shapado' will force StackOverflow to go open source.

Why? Because while it might be very close to what StackOverflow is, just like sequels, it is never as good as the original.

Also, even though it might have a developer community, it also have to have a user community. I find Q&A sites without a fairly large user base to be pretty useless.

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The whole StackExchange experience shows just how a powerful platform can grow communities very fast (over a few months). If the platform is superior, it can overtake a slower less agile project. Of course, overtaking the StackExchange project is one thing, and overtaking StackOverflow with its huge community is another. I don't see the StackOverflow site itself in danger (any time soon, at least), but StackExchange is a different story ... and they share the same codebase. –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 5:06
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@ripper, Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow-trilogy actually share a common codebase, but they are not the same code base. Also, the only reason SO took over Experts Exchange was because EE sucked really really bad. SO doesn't suck really really bad. –  Earlz Apr 9 '10 at 5:13
    
@earlz, I imagine they share 95%+ of the code base (meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/45994/…). I am not saying SO will be overtaken, but SE might. Its development is ... medium paced, in my personal impression. Not blazing fast. –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 5:22
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"just like sequels, it is never as good as the original." Actually in the software industry it's often the second or third person to enter the field that ultimately wins. Note that visicalc is no longer a viable spreadsheet program for today. Wordperfect wasn't the first word processor, but it ate up the competition - then was hit from behind by Word. Google was waaaaay behind in the search engine wars, but who even thinks about going to alta vista anymore? SO is merely a significant improvement on forums, newsgroups, and other existing disparate programming sites. It isn't invincible. –  Adam Davis Apr 9 '10 at 6:01
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I predict this will happen soon after Microsoft folds due to competition from open source OSes, office suites, compilers, etc.

Honestly, I can't see how any of the points you bring up change what was said in the other post. And this is coming from someone who considers open source to be a generally great thing.

If the platform is superior, it can overtake a slower less agile project.

It's not technical superiority of the platform that matters, what matters is community management (i.e. herding cats). If that is superior, the users will work around technical problems readily. For example, we already do this here on Meta for discussions, which really don't work well with the platform.

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I think, when the other post & answers were being written, there was really zero incentive for SO to open up. Soon though, an open source alternative might provide such an incentive (due to Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow sharing a code base). –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 5:09
    
@ripper: What would that incentive be? –  Gnome Apr 9 '10 at 5:11
    
See my answer to @Chacha102 –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 5:12
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People will inevitably want to be able to make changes to their sites which StackExchange won't support without open sourcing. At the moment, StackExchange has a far superior design than Shapado, but over time I expect that Open Source projects will be able to rival StackExchange and while not necessarily forcing it to become open source, make it at least become much more attractive.

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'Will inevitably want' --> 'want now'. I want better email support for months, and the Stack Exchange team hasn't delivered it yet. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/252/… –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 5:55
    
Open sourcing for this reason is the lazy man's way if you can't be assed (or just lack the skill) to write a proper extension API. –  Esko Apr 9 '10 at 7:31
    
@Esko, I'm lazy and proud of it. That's why I use Stack Overflow. I hate having to waste two hours searching for something or coding it myself when I can just ask it and get answers faster and with less effort. I believe all good programmers should be lazy when appropriate. –  ripper234 Apr 9 '10 at 8:39
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At this stage, I don't think making SO open source would change the landscape very much, except perhaps enable cross-pollination of ideas. It certainly won't kill or otherwise majorly affect Shapado's or OSQA's or CNProg's code projects.

Why do I say that? Because they target different audiences.

Suppose I want to set up a Q&A site on my server. Which software I choose depends more on my deployment platform, than most anything else. Like, I run Unix servers. I think SO is very well-designed and I like the SO user experience, but I have a hard time stomaching the thought of running Windows servers. (Just like I have a hard time stomaching the thought of coding in Objectionable-C, which is why I will never develop for iPhone.)

Likewise, there may be people who can't use Django for whatever reason, so CNProg and OSQA are out. You get the idea. :-)

So, my point is, no matter what, there will always be a place for multiple SO clones.

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