Reddit is killing off access to its main source code, because open source is bad for competition


Nine years after going open source, Reddit is archiving the source code for its website and mobile apps. The source code will still be accessible, but will no longer be updated -- Reddit cites concerns about competition as one of the reasons for the change in direction.

But Reddit is not completely turning its back on open source. While it will no longer be possible to access the full source code, it will still be possible to access a limited number of small codebases -- such as baseplate, rollingpin and mcsauna. The site says, "those who have been paying attention will realize that this isn't really a change to how we're doing anything but rather making explicit what's already been going on," but users are not convinced by the explanation.

Reddit explains that the initial thinking behind open sourcing the project was to ensure the site would stay alive no matter what happened to the company itself. Nine years on, Reddit has evolved into a gigantic online beast and the company points out that it has done a terrible job of keeping its open source project repos updated. But the first reason Reddit points out for the change of heart relates to competition:

Open-source makes it hard for us to develop some features "in the clear" (like our recent video launch) without leaking our plans too far in advance. As Reddit is now a larger player on the web, it is hard for us to be strategic in our planning when everyone can see what code we are committing.

In a post explaining the changes, founding coder Christopher Slowe says:

  • Because of the above, our internal development, production and "feature" branches have been moving further and further from the "canonical" state of the open source repository. Such balkanization means that merges are getting increasingly difficult, especially as the company grows and more developers are touching the code more frequently.
  • We are actively moving away from the "monolithic" version of reddit that works using only the original repository. As we move towards a more service-oriented architecture, Reddit is being divided into many smaller repositories that are under active development. There’s no longer a "fire and forget" version of Reddit available, which means that a 3rd party trying to run a functional Reddit install is finding it more and more difficult to do so.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the reaction from Reddit users has been divided, and a large number of commenters complain that the "reasoning is pretty poor." Others voice suspicion about what's really going on:

Yup this is absolutely the real reason. There is absolutely no reason they couldn't say "Here's our source code. You can't create a PR but you can see what we're doing, make suggestions, or roll your own".

They're selling out and in a way they don't want us to see. I'm thinking privacy invasion, selling more data, and/or government involvement.

What do you make of the change?

40 Responses to Reddit is killing off access to its main source code, because open source is bad for competition

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