Write custom code or adapt an application?


I'm working on a venture that combines straight forward forum functionality with Facebook like real time community discussions. The Facebook-a-like part uses news items to drive entries and encourages the community to comment on them.

So here is the question - would you advise:

a custom coded solution / adapting an open source application (if so can you name one) / going with a proprietary solution (if so can you name it).

For those who respond - I'd be grateful if you could you provide some basis for the opinions expressed.

Infrastructure Technical

asked Dec 10 '09 at 07:04
81 points

4 Answers


Rule 1 of a start-up: Don't outsource your core business. If you outsource the core of your business, then why would the person building it need you? If you try to get an investor, and all you've done is repackage existing technology, you may find yourself pushed out of your own business.

If you can't build this yourself, then either hire someone who can, or bring on a partner who can.

answered Dec 10 '09 at 07:52
4,692 points
  • +1 Agreed, if it makes you uniquely you, or if it's fundamental to your success or your customer's experience, you need total control. Other things are all debatable. – Jason 14 years ago


Interesting article on the subject: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2009-12-09/blog/giving-em-the-business/high-tech-the-good-and-bad-of-open-source-business-models&urlhash=6VWD&trk=news_discuss (by Phil Morettini in Ultra Light Startups)

The author makes the point that applications built over OS infrastructure (Linux, MySQL) do not have to reveal the source code. If we don't modify Linux then I wouldn√łt expect to have to reveal my app code (am I being naive?).

We need a combination of a basic forum - for which OS solutions do exist and, as Jeff pointed out, where the value is in the community not the application.

We also need a Facebook type solution - which we will need to modify - and that might be an element where we need to use OS only after carefully reviewing the particular copy right model employed.

Thanks for everyone's input thus far.


answered Dec 10 '09 at 18:50
81 points
  • You are incorrect about your jump from "running on Linux" to "modifying code." The bottom line is that different projects have different licensing rules, so each one is a different case. – Jason 14 years ago


Question. Is the application the business or is the community the business? That makes a big difference, if the business is the community, then OSS with some adaptations isn't a big deal, since that's not your focus and you should waste as little time as possible on coding.

answered Dec 10 '09 at 08:24
649 points
  • Its the community - but the Facebook news feature, that we use to nurture the community with, would be unique. – Puk 14 years ago
  • If that feature is your "unique selling point" then definitely close source it. There may be a way to use Open Source software for most of the site, and 'plug-in' your closed source feed without violating the an Open Source License, but you would talk to an expert on the Open Source licenses) to see the how that might work. – Jeff 14 years ago


If you adapt an open source application you need to make that open source itself... I would stay away from that option for that reason alone. No need to have that battle with investors if you are at a point where you can decide not to do that. Once your venture takes off you do not want to have a possible high-visibility battle with an OSS organization on whether or not you should open source your platform because you based it on an open source project. This is a corner you should not cut in your project.

In general I would go on a custom coded solution because it's your core business. You need to be able to customize as necessary. You do not want to cut corners on this aspect of your venture.

answered Dec 10 '09 at 07:11
Gabriel Magana
3,103 points
  • gmagana thanks for taking the time to input. I though that that GPL allowed retention proprietary extensions to base code, but wikipedia says: "In addition to restrictions on copying, copyleft licenses address other possible impediments. These include ensuring the rights cannot be later revoked and requiring the work and its derivatives to be provided in a form that facilitates modification. In software, this requires that the source code of the derived work is made available together with the software itself." So that does rule out the OS option. – Puk 14 years ago
  • @Puk: There are other OSS licenses (including variants of the GPL, I think) that do allow for derivative works not to be open sourced, but still you might get resistance once an investor learns that your platform is based on an OSS project. Better to go the "normal" development route and avoid the problem altogether. – Gabriel Magana 14 years ago
  • Not all open source licenses require publishing the source. – Tim J 14 years ago
  • AGPL is the only one that I know of that requires you to distribute the code for a web application. – Olivier Lalonde 14 years ago

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