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The problem with trying to create a business around a community, is that you have to deal with the community. As Reddit's former interim CEO Ellen Pao discovered when the users are the commodity and they revolt, you'll have issues trying to "monetize". Github seems to have run into a similar issues. In an ever-increasing mood of pitchforks and torches online, everything from a fruit juice bottles text, to beer bottle lines to a big bold"beach body ready?" headline can be derailed if those who take offense are loud enough.
Currently a controversy is brewing over at Github, which can be described as "the facebook of programmers". That's one heck of an elevator pitch, and made Github the darling of VC-funders and happy users alike. It's a web-based Git repository hosting service, where you can upload your projects and if anyone takes a liking to your repo they can fork it and work on it too.
Git in this context is a free software distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License, and every Git working directory is a full-fledged repository with complete history and full version-tracking capabilities. A fork is a copy of a repository. Forking a repository allows you to freely experiment with changes without affecting the original project, and the original project doesn't affect yours. Just making that clear so that Adria Richards doesn't come around in case I make any forking-jokes.
Currently, there's an all out gif-and-snark-war going on in this trainwreck of a thread over at Github, below a small change made in the fork of a repo. A change where the word "Retard" - "delay or hold back in terms of progress or development"- was removed and exchanged for the word "Git" - "an unpleasant or contemptible person". Why? Github wants to remove the word "retard" from code. Github had already deleted the original repo, and suddenly all forks from this repo were affected, ie; also gone from public view and use on Github. Nixx who had this fork was told by a friend of theirs that their repo had been taken down on Saturday the 25th of July; "I had not received any email from GitHub regarding this" Nixx explains. No warning. "I could not access any management panels, so even if I wanted to delete the repo and replace it with a dummy repo with the same name pointing to a new host, for instance, this would be impossible."
"I sent an email through GitHub's support form almost immediately, asking why it was taken down. 7PM the next day (Sunday, 26th) I received my first reply from GitHub. They stated that the original repo was taken down because it broke the terms of service"
Nixx notes that Github did not mention any specific clauses or details in their terms that had been breached. It's only in the follow-up response that Github refers to "Content that we determine in our sole discretion are unlawful, offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, pornographic, obscene or otherwise objectionable..." as a reason for removing the word retard.
"I replied almost immediately asking specifically what it was banned for." Nixx explains, then "9PM on Tuesday, the 28th, I got the response I included in the commit message, stating that my repository had been restored for 24 hours to allow me to remove the word 'Retard'."
When Nixx exchanged the word "retard" for "git", the comments to the change were suddenly filled with popcorn-eating gifs. Which words are kosher in code? Is the British insult better than the word for slow? Is the Image Manipulation Program called "Gimp", also hosted at Github, now problematic? There are currently 224,477 code results for the word "retard" at Github, are they all at risk of being shut down with no warning?
There are alternatives to Github, try Gitlab, or Gogs.io, or getgitorious. This is not the first time things have been removed from Github citing a terms of service breach, last year a repository called "Gamergate OP" was abruptly removed. The problem now is that by being "the facebook for programmers", Github is the centralised network for sharing projects, and leaving becomes difficult when you and your projects are connected to other users of Github.
But just like Facebook, it seems so important when you use it, but so redundant when you're not on it. By placing all their eggs in one basket, the happy code-sharing users actually made Github king over their projects, the language police of their code-comments, and put their work at the whim of any changes to this terms of service. On July 20th Github also announced that they adopted the Open Code of Conduct, a 'Code of Conduct is inspired by the code of conducts and diversity statements from several other communities, including Django, Python, Ubuntu, Contributor Covenant, and Geek Feminism. ' And suddenly it has dawned on people what a mistake it is to centralize a decentralized version control system. Vague lines in TOS are a dime a dozen, and a lawyers best friend that way any service can be arbitrary in their enforcing of "the rules".
The question is, looking at that trainwreck of a thread, who felt the need to actually start policing code-comments? By doing this, Github risks alienating their core users, though at least one user in the trainwreck thread insists that they should all "shoo". As in; "You all lose. Just leave. Go form your own git hosting service that'll wither and die. Shoo."
The thing is, the core users can literally do just that, and where would that leave Github the business? Will it be worth $2 billion after 224,477 repos are arbitrarily locked down or deleted?