11 Dec 2015

Source Closing

Hampton Catlin

Back in May, we announced that we were not only going with a Creative Commons license for the content of the dictionary, but that we were going to open source the software that runs the site itself. We knew that almost no websites open sourced their code, and we figured, “Why not?”

Well, I can say that we’ve slowly learned why websites aren’t open sourced. Mostly, because people just don’t care about that kind of software. It’s not the kind of thing that you can go launch yourself. Websites are complex pieces of software that integrate with tons of external and internal API’s. They aren’t single bits of software.

Also, we learned that because the software that runs websites is so complex, it’s pretty much impossible to get anyone to contribute code. We’ve had probably 10-20 commits from strangers, and mostly they are low level stuff.

Now we get to the point of the negatives… maybe no one helps or uses it, but it doesn’t hurt anything, right?

1. We design the software differently, knowing that people are looking. That can be good, and that can be bad.

2.We can't use any algorithms that are closed source. Specifically, Metaphone3, which powers our search, is not open sourced, but is by far the best thing out there. So, do we stick to our guns and only use open sourced software, or do we improve the overall experience and quality of our open content?

3.We can't use external API's, because that makes it wholly impossible for anyone to even start to run the software. Sharing sample data is really tricky.

In the end, our goals have been listed out since the beginning, and we have been realizing that having this part of the code open sourced was actually negatively effecting those goals! We love and support and work on other open source software, but for a website, it just doesn’t make sense!

So, officially, our website source code is no longer “open sourced”. The legacy code is still available for a bit longer, but people keep getting confused by it.

We still believe in open data and making the world a better place, and we’ve just realized that that is more important than the license on the software itself.

That said, we plan to open source elements of our website that we believe would be helpful and relevant to others.