There is no single definition of success in open source projects.
Nowadays, everyone is involved in open source. Microsoft has just released its 3D Movie Maker software under an open source license. Spotify has many projects that it has released and to which it contributes, and has just announced a fund to support supporting projects. There is even a game engine code from the Middle Ages (1998) is open source.
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S these projects and millions more available, a fair question is to ask … why? Or rather, why do most of these projects matter and for whom? Most projects will never be Kubernetes.
After more than two decades in open source, however, I am beginning to realize that this is the wrong question.
The example of the firefighter
Get Firecracker, an open source microvirtulation project that AWS launched in 2018. Firecracker was almost everywhere welcomed as a great technology … and then almost disappeared from public view. I wrote about some early successes in the community, but even that (Weave Ignite to improve the ease of use of Firecracker, among other things) comes from a close partner of AWS. To give Firecracker more weight in the community, I suggested that AWS follow Google and open up control around Firecracker, not just its code.
AWS didn’t listen, but not for the first time, my opinion didn’t seem to matter. (This is a polite way of saying that I may have been wrong.)
Fast forward to 2022 and Firecracker will quietly get used to many cool places. I say “quiet” because why would someone shout at their infrastructure from the rooftops? But when I he askedsome interesting users have appeared, such as Strip, Fly.io, System initiative and More ▼. Of course, it is still true that most Firecracker contributors are hired by AWS.
But even if Firecracker remained a community of one (AWS), it might have been worth it. In fact, this is essentially what I said while working for AWS, which shows that there is clear customer-oriented reasons for open source Firecracker, regardless of community involvement. Open source ensures that Firecracker plays well with the Linux community and allows for more stringent “complex product profits” for customers.
Millions of fireworks
Now play this example with Firecracker, multiply more than a hundred million GitHub (and other open source) repositories. It’s not about being the next Kubernetes. Every open source project is about meeting the needs of an individual developer, company or the wider community.
Sometimes these needs can be great. In a conversation with Lyft’s chief engineer and Envoy founder Matt Klein, he stressed that “for most people who open something, it’s actually a net negative” because “if they don’t invest in it, if they don’t, they do it.” all these things [like PR, marketing, and hiring]”They’re just going to throw something over the wall.” For Klein, gaining significant industry involvement in Envoy helped the project be worth the investment he (and Lyft in addition) made.
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But maybe not everyone should get such a return. In the case of Firecracker, open source code and simple customer collaboration would suffice, as I thought. Unlike Google, which was probably trying to develop a multi-cloud reality through Kubernetes, it had to get big. Each project will have different needs and different measures of success.
So you’re not the next Kubernetes? This is good. Nor are you the next firefighter? Also good. For open source developers, the key is to understand what a healthy project means to your specific needs and not be distracted by the definition of success for others.
Disclosure: I work for MongoDB, but the views expressed here are mine.