Long is the road

Tonight, I’ve transferred Publify to a newly created Publify organization. Doing so means that Publify is not linked to my Github account, and therefore to my name, anymore. It’s a strange feeling, and I expect to feel the same when my first kid finally leave home: I’m losing something I’ve been living with for a long time ; we’ll still see each other from time to time, it will be cool but things will never be the same again.

You’ve probably never heard of Publify, but you’ve probably guessed it’s an open source Web publishing platform.

Publify had its 15 minutes of fame, and even more than this in 2004 under the name Typo. Typo was a pretty popular piece of software, and it eventually powered Ruby on Rails official weblog. Unfortunately, it was far from being perfect. Instead of fixing it, the young and fast moving Rails community left the building in the early days of 2006. Typo reached the deadpool, and I took over the project a few weeks laters.

We moved to Github in May 2008, and Publify switched from its own website under my name. Thinking about it, that was not a very smart move, but to be honest, I didn’t really cared about it. The Typo account was held by a maintainer who barely took care of the project anymore (even though he still uses it), and I was feeling a bit lonely with a huge amount of legacy code. Today, Publify has 4 cool maintainers, who work on the project when they have time, and it’s an actively developed project with 1139 stars, 2690 forks, 60 releases and 52 contributors. Not bad for a “dead” project we don’t communicate and advertise about.

Moving Publify away from my name is something I should have done for years now. I’ve been thinking about it since the very day Github released organizations and there are many reasons why I chose not to do it.

The main one is pride. Pride is, along with stupidity, the main reasons for taking bad decisions. Publify has become a nice open source project, and even though it’s not as popular as it used to be, I was reluctant about handing it over: more than 2000 forks is a lot, and Publify was my actual Githug identity. Writing for a well known newspaper is very different from having a very popular blog under your name. So moving it away from me weaken my online presence from a professional point of view.

The other reason was more subtle. Over the years, I’ve been tempted to stop working on Publify. Developping a blogging platform is soooooo 2002, and I often thought about moving away for something else. I somehow knew that, if I did, the project would probably die, so I kept pushing code here and there when I needed a new feature, or when I was tired of the UI. I recently found a new interest in it as we moved Publify from a simple blogging platform into a more general publishing platform, formally joining the Indiewebcamp community. So far, Publify only supports notes and POSSE to Twitter, but that’s something we want to change after releasing the 7 issues away version 8.0.

But let’s stop talking about myself and the reason why I was so reluctant to let Publify live its own life. The most interesting is still to come: why should every open source project be separated from his owner name?

It makes building a community easier

My first thoughts were to my fellow maintainers. For the past 2-3 years, out team of maintainer has known an impressive stability, with the same people giving time to keep Publify alive. Matijs and Yannick have been refactoring and making the backend code more stable than ever, while Thomas has been pushing long hated Javascript when he finds both the time and the motivation. I’ve kept adding features and bugs, leaving the cool guys fix behind me.

But when you think about it, they’ve been coding all these years for one purpose: enlarge my penis Github fame without any other reward than being listed on the README.

That’s not what you call a fair deal.

Moving your open source project to an organization makes the balance right. Everyone contributes to the project, and no one gets all the fame, cash and glory brought by working on an open source project.

It’s also better at attracting contributors even though your software is so so. People will feel the contribute to the project, and they will more likely send patches, open issues, ask and answer questions etc…

It makes your project safer

Like them or not, but Github has made a tremendous work at preventing open source projects from dying.

In the past, handing over a project was all but easy. You had to transfer the domain name, the CVS or SVN repository, the Trac database, the mailing list rights etc… Having the project leader leaving was almost certainly a meaning for death, and the only solution was to fork the project and rebuild the community.

As Github gathers everything in one place, it makes handing over easier than ever. It took me 3 clicks to give it to the newly created Publify organization. All the maintainers are organization owners, so if I get hit by a meteorite tomorrow morning, it won’t make a real difference.

Moving your open source project to an organization also makes people feel safer. I’ve been working on Publify for 8 years now. If I decide to quit, the documentation, issues etc… won’t be lost. I think I feel safer about this too.

It makes official side projects easier to identify

If you look at my Github account, I have an insane amount of Typo or Publify related projects. Are they maintained? Are they officially supported? No one can tell, not even myself.

Building an organization makes identifying official side projects easier. What’s under the organization name is official. What’s under the maintainers name is not. Easy.

I guess I’m done with that now. The only advice I can give you if you “own” an open source project is: make an organization as soon as you start having contributors. It will make your project’s life easier, and your life too.

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