Make my failed Web application open source?


I've outsourced the creation of Web Spy Pro ( last year.
It's a Webanalytics software that record/play the visitor mouse movements, so you can see exactly what visitors are doing on your site instead of guessing.
And with that gathered data it also generates advanced heatmaps.

Problem: The developer stopped working after 75% and new developers didn't understand the code.

So after spending $10k I'm done with it.
But I also feel it's a little bit sad to just throw it away...

Is there a way I can make it OpenSource so people can contribute to the software and eventually when it's running as it should, sell it?

Development Open Source Web App

asked Jul 15 '10 at 05:10
176 points
  • So do any of the features function now with the 75% complete? – John Bogrand 14 years ago
  • SELL IT.. you can sell it incomplete.. its a good idea. Very much like – Frank 13 years ago

8 Answers


Good answers in the thread already. I just want to add one element: If you just 'throw it over the wall' and into the realm of open source, then it will almost 100% certainly fail completely as an open source project. Open-sourcing and then running away is the same as killing the project outright.

There are way more open source projects than there are volunteers. If you don't trust me on this, then go have a look at Sourceforge and Google Code notice the projects that have not had updates for 2-3 years.

For projects to succeed, they need careful stewardship, a friendly community to attract developers, and some 'hotness' in technology or elsewhere that can motivate and inspire developers.

a way I can make it OpenSource so people can contribute to the software and eventually when it's running as it should, sell it?

Yes, dual-licensing, as Steve Wilkinson pointed out. But this requires you to obtain the copyright (ownership) for all open source contributions via a contributor agreement. That raises the bar, and makes it harder to attract developers.

And additionally, if you open source just to 'feed' off the open source energy and then sell for profit, then expect your reputation to be permanently damaged. The open source community has its own set of values, and they're not always in internal agreement on them, but if they become united against an 'outsider' they can hit hard...

answered Jul 16 '10 at 21:49
Jesper Mortensen
15,292 points
  • Hi Jesper, thank you very much for your detailed answer. What I ment with "contribute to the software and eventually when it's running as it should, sell it" is that there will always be a free version available, but that the paid version will have no limits. For example: no limits on how much visitors you can track. So the features will be the same... I posted the idea here because I am really exhausted. This project costed me 100's of hours, sleepless nights and a bunch of money. So I just want to do something with it... – Dennis 14 years ago
  • @Dennis: That's cool, I understand where you're coming from, and think its great that you're trying to find a good solution. Regarding your "sell higher-capacity plans" idea: In principle you could make a license agreement to cover anything that can be put in a contract. But in practice open source means giving out the source code along with a right to modify the code, so capacity limits are hard to enforce. But that said, some companies do succeed with this model. Maybe this overview can help you: Mortensen 14 years ago
  • Sell support, maintenance and services like teaching or a book explaining how to make best use of the software. Make it a win win solution for the open source community. You can then pay key contributors. – Chmike 13 years ago


I wouldn't completely agree that open-sourcing stops you generating product revenue, as you could dual-license your product - say GPL and commercial, that way people can get to it who might never had paid for it anyway, but for firms that need to buy a formally supported product there is always the commercial offering. See this article by Michael Widenius, founder of MySQL , for example, for some thoughts on the subject. I would also argue that you can still maintain control, as long as you don't have a do-pretty-much-what-you-like licence (such as MIT or BSD).

In terms of hoping that you get people to contribute freely and then sell, I don't think that is a viable model - contributors in the open-source world often contribute for altruistic reasons and knowing that your goal was to make money rather than provide a public resource is likely to hamper contributions. (It also doesn't seem morally right to take people's contributions and generate income without giving something back.)

A more viable model involving open-source is to release the source so people can build add-ons - developers often do this to solve their own problems, and are also often happy to put the source out there. One thing to be careful of generally is that you have in place a sensible contributor licence, especially if you let people contribute to the core.

Good luck with the project.

answered Jul 16 '10 at 17:49
Steve Wilkinson
2,744 points



If you really want to keep the software private and are worried about the expense or commitment of a programmer I would suggest that you attempt to find a programmer who will take equity in the project to work on it.

This way:

  • The programmer has a significant incentive to 'dive in'
  • You do not have to pay anymore $$
  • If it does not work, then go with the open source

Seems like a situation where you can't lose, especially if you are considering open source already...

Good Luck!

answered Jul 16 '10 at 03:39
Jeff Epstein
1,532 points
  • With a background in programming, I can tell you that finding a quality developer who will join a project for equity when the largest issues with the project are programming related is easier said than done. With an attitude that if it doesn't work you can still go open source makes it look like you're looking for some free work. – Elie 14 years ago
  • Elie, I do not disagree. I do think that it is possible to find someone willing to take the chance. It depends on several factors that I am not privy to, including the quality of previous work, market size, etc.. – Jeff Epstein 14 years ago
  • I like this answer best so far, but agree with Elie that finding committed programmers who really want equity/ownership is hard. Most just seem to want a job/pay check. Nothing wrong with that but in this kind of situation you'd really need a partner you can trust to stick with it for the long haul (especially if they want to undertake a rewrite). – Kelly Rued 13 years ago


If you Open Source the project, you won't be able to sell it. After all, any potential buyer could just download the source. Once it enters the public domain, it's basically out there for anyone.

answered Jul 15 '10 at 07:15
4,692 points
  • From what I've heard you can still sell your own product with more features and with adding support. So I could limit the opensource version to only track xxx visitors per month and the full (paid version) with unlimited tracking. – Dennis 14 years ago
  • Absolutely - that's like selling themes for Drupal or WordPress. While you couldn't sell the core engine, you can always leave yourself room to sell an add-on at a later point in time. – Elie 14 years ago
  • Hi Elie, not sure what you mean by "sell it" as software is typically licensed not sold outright (custom proprietary code is sometimes sold outright, but that's probably an exception these days). There is nothing stopping him from releasing his community project code under an opensource license and then offering an enterprise version under a different license (features don't even have to be crazy different, but usually include expedited support and possibly integration services). There are too many examples to list but OpenX is a great project that monetizes opensource in several ways. – Kelly Rued 13 years ago
  • Kelly, I agree with you that it could be monetized by selling (licensing) other versions. But the point I was making is that the portion that is made Open Source could not be sold because it's already in the public domain. You would still have to work at some point to create another version that could be sold. – Elie 13 years ago


Is it possible that your new developers are not competent?

Do you really want to throw it away or are you just having one of those moments?

If you go back to your original purpose for starting this project, is there another way you can achieve it?

answered Jul 15 '10 at 14:02
Susan Jones
4,128 points
  • Hi Susan, Well, I've spend thousands of dollars to fix piece by piece because it seems no developer could fix all issues. So far I got 2 new developers stop working because of family issues, and one because they needed to research way to much how the code works and so it wasn't profitable for them. It cost a lot of time before I find a good developer... And when I have one it's excuse after excuse. So I'm a little bit lost on what to do now... – Dennis 14 years ago
  • That is becauye you simply do not work with good developers. 10.000 USD would buy you about - hm - 2-4 weeks from a decent developer as a freelancer. – Net Tecture 14 years ago
  • Hey Dennis, That's fine. I just wanted to check in and make sure that you don't chuck it all in when there could be solutions for you. It's great that you are talking to others. You could try posting some more specific questions on this forum to give you more ideas about possible next moves. Good luck! – Susan Jones 14 years ago
  • One tip from my experience is that you want to find people who really want a break and don't have too much else on their plate. A smart 3-4 year college student with some opensource experience (work they did on their own, not in school) is a good bet. They are starting out and will do part-time and appreciate a paid gig even if it's not a pro rate. Hard to find, but better than an unreliable part-timer with a family and too much else giving them those good excuses to back out. It's also possible your existing code is a trainwreck. ;) – Kelly Rued 13 years ago


Don't open source it unless you want to do more consulting than selling software. Too much of your time, energy and money have been put into it.

You certainly aren't dealing with typical web development stuff. Not only do you need a good developer, but one that will stick around. Unless your problems are major bugs or performance issues, hold off on development and spend the time selling this thing.

Working on a complex project will attract developers, but if the project can be profitable for them, it will be much easier.

I wish you luck on this. After reading on usability tests, this could be the next best thing to looking over a user's shoulder.

answered Jul 15 '10 at 22:59
Jeff O
6,169 points
  • Hi Jeff, thanks for your comment... The problem is that due to the bugs the software can't be sold. And for a new developer to fix those bugs he needs to dive in the code. And most times after that they said "oeff, I don't understand this... I can stop coding or re-develop it all" But it's like throwing money away without knowing the result. After working with 4 coders I'm a little bit lost right now... – Dennis 14 years ago
  • Not to nitpick, Jeff, but selling software should always involve support and documentation, etc. It sounds like you're saying he wouldn't have to consult or provide support services with a closed source license/biz model. Also, opensource projects don't have to be monetized only with consultation... lots of other options. – Kelly Rued 13 years ago
  • @KellyRued - it's easier to leverage your time when you create code, documentation, etc. once and sell many times. Of course there will be additional support, upgrade and possibly customization needs, but that's more of a supplement unless there is some reoccuring revenue stream involved. Sure you can sell opensource software, but so can everyone else. – Jeff O 13 years ago
  • Sorry Dennis, I know it can be frustrating, but you need to interview more coders. – Jeff O 13 years ago


I think making it open source is a good idea. The only downside is the risk of someone taking it away and making money with it, eating you cake. So what would the potential user have to do to use your software free of charge? This depends on some technical details, which I can only guess, so I outline two scenarios:

  • If, for example, he only has to download a single PHP file, put it onto his server and everything is working, well, then he will do exactly this and has no incentive to pay anything.
  • But if, on the other hand, there are multiple parts of that software, maybe in different languages, using a complicated database setup, with diverse hard-to-fulfill dependencies, etc... That is: It would be possible to take the source and set up everything, but it would be hard. This is where your business comes in. You provide the back end and all infrastructure on your server, so the user only needs to do a little work to get it working. The user pays for the service, not for the software.

In the second case, (nearly) no end user would want to go through all the hassle to setup the back end on his own. But there would be the risk of someone else taking your software and creating the same hosting service that you build up. To prevent this, you could take some of your back end code (if possible, those parts that are already working fine) and leave those closed source.

Maybe some of my assumptions don't really fit your case, but I thought I'd just share my ideas anyway.

answered Oct 24 '10 at 20:38
Lena Schimmel
111 points


I'm probably answering this way too late, but for others reading:

I'd follow this path:

0) try everything reasonable to see if you can bring it back from the dead...
1) try to sell it
2) IF you can't sell it OR the price offered is very low (depends on the person and the project, but say a few hundred or thousands) then release it as open source instead
3) pimp it out and promote the fact it is available as open source (back it up with a proper community website, with a forum etc for the community to help each other. If you can put one of these together yourself for free then get it touch and I'll make one for free just for the sake of encouraging open source!), hopefully then you'll reap positive karma/attention/networking which will help you for the future :-)

Additionally something nearly everybody seems to be overlooking is there is a LOT of different open source licenses.

Some of them are quite different to each other, giving the person who released to open source varying amounts of "control" over it (or not).

So seriously recommend researching and asking for advice on what open source license first so you know your options :-)

answered Jun 2 '12 at 00:50
Matthew Galloway
99 points

Your Answer

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • • Bullets
  • 1. Numbers
  • Quote
Not the answer you're looking for? Ask your own question or browse other questions in these topics:

Development Open Source Web App