Open Source Think Tank Meetings: Ross Turk and the State of the Art of the SourceForge Marketplace

The 2008 Open Source Think Tank was a great chance to meet in person great people in the open source business community, a must for whom interested in professional networking.

On Friday I spent an evening chatting with Ross Turk, and I asked him to tell about SourceForge Marketplace state of the art.

The Marketplace has been a very interesting experience. As you know (or may not know, actually), we wanted to start down this path with an implementation that was as flexible as
possible. We didn’t want the tool we provided to limit the creativity of its primary users, our community. We felt strongly that it was a better idea to simply provide the tool and watch how people use it, since they’d come up with far more creative uses than we could come up with ourselves.

That said, what we released appears on the surface to be rather basic. Under the covers, there was a lot of effort put into some stuff that nearly nobody will ever see but the system can’t exist
without, so I don’t want to say it wasn’t a lot of work – but to the users, it’s a simple listing and transaction engine. Just about anything can be listed for sale, and almost any kind of transaction
can take place. There’s a flipside to that, though, because in order to get that flexibility as quickly as we did we’ve implemented mostly just the bare necessities. Even in retrospect, I think that was a good strategy, because almost immediately we began to learn things.

First, we learned that people are interested in the idea. People are responding to it in pretty large numbers; growing numbers, in fact, and I think that’s good.

Second, we learned that there are a few types of transactions that people seem to want to do that our system doesn’t support. For example, people who want to sell services by the hour are working around the lack of that ability by creating listings for a single hour of service and dealing with the discrepancy in purchase price with the buyer directly. Adding the capability to have per-incident, per-hour, and per-project pricing would be useful to a lot of people.

Probably the most subtle thing we’re learning is how to balance the market-based nature of what we have built with the somewhat non-market tendencies of our community.
Some projects are happy to have their services prominently displayed, but I can imagine there are a few folks out there who would rather keep the suggestion of commerce as far away from them as possible. I think that our community has varying opinions on the commercialization of open source, which leads to the question: At what point does suggesting available services on the pages of an open source project stop providing value for that project? I think we’re learning where that line is.

Ross, what about the SourceForge Advisory Board?  

There’s not a whole lot to say about the SourceForge Advisory Board yet, since not a lot has happened! In a nutshell, though, here’s the deal: we realized last year that, while we think we know about our business and our position in the open source ecosystem, there’s a good likelihood that we’re a bit too intimate with what we do to be as accurate on those things as we could be with a little help. We need an external group of people who understand what we are, what we should become, and what we should value.

Right now, we’re planning an initial kickoff meeting in California. I assumed that dealing with the travel logistics of an international advisory board would be a monster task, but I seriously underestimated the difficulty of just getting eleven people to agree on a date. 🙂 We’ll all know a little bit more about this topic once that happens, I think.

Ross I simply can’t wait to join you and the others, please keep me updated. All the best!

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