You probably know
ohloh Open Hub — it’s a website that provides statistical information about a number of Free Software (but not limited to) projects, fetching data from various source repositories and allowing developers to “aggregate” their commit statistics; it works partly like CIA but rather than receiving commit messages, it fetches the whole commits (since it analyses the code as well as the commits).
While I like it, and blogged about it before, I do start having some reserves to it; there are quite a few problems related to it that made some of its useful features moot, and at the same time it seems like it grew some extra features (like download servers) that seem, nowadays, pretty pointless.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea itself; and I’m pretty sure developers love statistics, but as I said there are quite a few issues, especially when you add to the story some things like the huge increment in use of distributed version control systems (Git, Bzr, Mercurial, …), and the increased popularity of identi.ca among free software developers. I’m afraid that some of these environment changes are going to kill off ohloh by this pace, mostly because it really doesn’t seem like it’s going to adapt anytime soon.
You might remember my post about the journal feature which was, at the end, simply a tweaked microblogging application; I say tweaked because it had one fundamental feature: hash-tags weren’t simply invented, they directly related to the ohloh projects. Unfortunately, even I abandoned that feature. The reason for that was not only that it seemed to fail to reach the critical mass for such services to be useful, but also that the implementation had quite a few problems that made it more of a nuisance than something useful. The Jabber bot happened to die more often than not, and even when it worked sometimes it failed to update the website at all. I don’t know whether a proper API was defined for that, but it didn’t get support from desktop microblogging software like gwibber for instance, which could have helped build-up the critical mass needed.
Another issue is with the explosion of DVCS, as I said: since now any people wanting to branch a software to apply some fixes or changes is able to have their own repository, there has to be some filtering in which repositories do get enlisted in ohloh: who decides which repositories are official? This is probably one of the reasons why managers were added to the projects; unfortunately this came probably in too late, and as far as I can see most projects lack a manager at all.
And another problem still: seems like any project that involves changing something in the Linux kernel ended up importing a whole branch of the Linus repository (for obvious reasons), which makes my contributions list projects such as
Linux ACPI LinuxSH LTTng OpenMoko (this actually created a bit of a fuzz with a colleague of mine some time ago) OpenEZX KVM linux-omap and linux-davinci and that’s just for one patch, mostly (a few already picked up my second named patch to the kernel, which is even more trivial than the first one; I got a third I’ll have to re-send around sooner or later).
But this by itself would just mean that, like many other projects, of all possible kind out there, ohloh has problems to face and solve, no sh*t Sherlock. Why do I go a step further saying that it might not be around for long still? Well, some time ago, I think it was in relation to the blog post I named above about journals, I was contacted by Jason Allen which is ohloh’s head, who asked my help to clear out some problems with indexing gentoo’s repositories (the problem still exists, by the way, there is a huge timeframe indexed but nowhere near the 10 years we just celebrated). I was able for a while to contact him when some problem came up with ohloh and that was fine; unfortunately I have been unable to contact him for a few months now (around the time SourceForge acquired them if that says anything), and this includes pinging him on ohloh’s own journal feature. I hope he’s alright, and simply too busy with the joined stuff to answer, but still that doesn’t profile well for ohloh as a website.
There are other problems as well, don’t you worry: for instance, the projects allow to set up feeds to publish in the project’s page: they used to have problem with UTF-8 and thus garbled my surname (not the only ones mind you), but this became even worse with time because requests go out without an User-Agent (which means my current mod_security configuration is rejecting the requests); of course I could whitelist the ohloh’s server IP address, but… it doesn’t look like a complex bug to fix does it?
And finally, the other day I was considering making use of the ohloh data to prepare a script showing a tagcloud-like list of projects I contribute to, I wanted something that could show easily what I really do… ohloh makes available an API that most likely had everything I needed, but, for a website that proposes you to “Grok Open Source” (that’s what the homepage says), having a clause like this in the API documentation seems a bit… backwards:
It is important not to share API keys. In order to access or modify account data, your application must be granted permission by an individual Ohloh account holder. This permission is granted on a per-key basis.
Now, I know that it’s pretty difficult for webservices to properly authenticate applications using services, and thus why API keys are used; but at the same time, doesn’t this block the whole idea of open-source clients using those APIs?