Is an open source prototype a bad idea?


I'm building a prototype for a web/mobile application. The goal is to collect user generated content, let user rate it while at the same time being entertained and do something interesting with it. If I can collect a fair amount of data, there are interisting business opportunities.

Instead of keeping the prototype closed, I use github for source control (and backup). I don't mind that the source code is now open source (EDIT: and publicly available), because nobody really understands the idea behind the application yet. I don't think there is a great risk.

Am I wrong?

I do know the difference between public and open source, and I do know how to check the pricing plans on GitHub. This question is not about price or about where to find a place to stash code, it's about what really are the risks of publicly developing something that will be used for a business.

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asked Jan 26 '13 at 07:07
106 points
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  • I think you are confusing, source control with open source. Open Source is a general philosophy regarding the distribution of code at it's heart a set of license which allow free distribution and modification of code. Your question sounds more like you are asking should I have a public repo set up? – Tim Nash 11 years ago

2 Answers


Open source has its purposes. It also has its purposes in a fully commercial environment.

Take Video platform company for instance. Their codebase is open source, people improve on their video players, contribute code back to the company base, create a community of developers and a buzz that keeps Kaltura's solutions known to more and more people. The company makes a living selling the content delivery (e.g. hosting). In that case there's a clear advantage to being open source. Everybody wins.

"Using github for backup, and I don't mind people taking the source code" as you put it is not a valid business reason to go open source. If you benefit nothing from people who will gain access to the source, don't make it available to the public.

gitHub charges about $7 a month to store up to 5 private repositories. Until you find a really good reason to have your solution open source, my advice to you is to keep it private.

answered Jan 26 '13 at 07:19
Ron M.
4,224 points
  • Thanks for the answer. It is a good idea to keep everything private, or to have a business plan with open source. But my question was the opposite: is it a bad idea or a great risk to keep the source open in a very early stage? – Pvoosten 11 years ago
  • if no benefit can come out of it -- then only "nothing" or "bad" things can come. Nothing is nothing. Bad is bad. why risk it? – Ron M. 11 years ago


There is a distinction that you may need to draw here.

Open Source means a certain kind of licence (see ) - it's not a synonym for public. Whether that kind of licence is an appropriate one for your business and your code is something that you'll have to decide.

I'm unsure whether github requires projects on their free plan to have opensource licences - but that may well be worth checking.

If you're worried about this at all it seems to be a foolish economy. A private repo is not an exorbitant amount on github. There are many cheap/free options for backups.

answered Jan 26 '13 at 19:26
Adrian Howard
2,357 points
  • I'm afraid you are mistaken. Open Source means a particular variety of software licence. The OSI have a trademark and enforce it. See the previous link – Adrian Howard 11 years ago
  • Yes - that is how copyright works. But the term "open source" has a specific meaning implying a certain family of licences. See previous link. Github may not enforce that in their T&Cs - but the term is trademarked and the OSI do occasionally enforce that trademark. This issue of describing source code in this way - even without an explicit licence - has caused problems for some organisations I have worked with in the past. I would *strongly* recommend consulting an IP lawyer if you use open source to describe your code if you don't mean to imply an OSI style licence. – Adrian Howard 11 years ago
  • (Even ignoring the licence issue - on github using the open source repo means - to quote from the T&Cs - "By setting your repositories to be viewed publicly, you agree to allow others to view and fork your repositories" - terms so loose to give a lot of room for discussion on what's allowed/disallowed). – Adrian Howard 11 years ago

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