João Freitas

The following is a retrospective on Github’s original premise of being a social code platform. The author goes on to prove that GitHub can’t really be considered a social platform, because it doesn’t offer features that impact your view or that allow you to connect more to other users, although structuring itself as a one-way following graph.

GitHub’s original tagline was  “social code hosting,” but are there network effects in programming? Do the social features matter? GitHub is primarily an enterprise B2B SaaS company – how much do the consumer social features matter?

GitHub resembles many social networks –

The social graph – GitHub has a one-way following graph, i.e., you can follow others without permission (compared to a bidirectional model like LinkedIn connections or Facebook friends).

The feed – Like many social networks, there’s an algorithmic feed. Unfortunately, it’s not very useful. Events like newly created repositories, comments, pull requests, and starring appears in the feed. It’s usually cluttered with CI spam,

Stars (likes) – You can “like” repositories, which has zero effect other than increasing the counter.

Fortunately, we have an interesting counterfactual – GitLab, which among other things, is GitHub but de-emphasizes the social features – it’s more likely to be deployed on-prem and overall has significantly fewer consumer public users and projects. GitLab’s current market cap is $8.5b (Microsoft acquired GitHub in 2019 for $7.5b). Some other interesting observations.

So, if I were to guess, social features haven’t moved the needle for GitHub. SaaS businesses with network effects are rare, but when they work, they grow huge (e.g., Figma, Slack). So there’s probably something there – maybe the next generation of companies will figure it out.

#reads #matt rickard #github #social network