Ohloh has raised the hackles of some open source contributors in two areas. One, some argue it undercounts contributions that don't take the form of actual code, such as steering development efforts. Two, some complain that it could compromise contributors' privacy.
Ohloh's business proposition may not fly
Ultimately, if Ohloh doesn't have a viable business proposition, these controversies could be short-lived.
To get revenue, Ohloh will offer classified developer ads, broker support for open source software, and sell data subscriptions.
For example, Ohloh will use widgets to place its classified ads on technical job recruiting sites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com, and split the revenue. It will sell quarterly data subscriptions for information on developer and project activity. The subscriptions will cost $25,000 to $50,000, depending on customization and other needs.
Ohlo CEO Collison says the data available on the free site now represents only a portion of the information Ohloh has collected. The company will do tailored searches for clients, and give them tools to find the most useful information in the database.
Such data mining approaches form a creative and potentially useful idea, but can it really make money?
Jay Lyman, an analyst with the 451 Group, is not so sure: "Its business model is largely untested." But he credits Ohloh for being "novel in its breadth across open source software teams and cross-project communication and collaboration," which Lyman describes as "a cross of SourceForge and Facebook," connecting the developers of different projects to each other.
Ohloh is not the first to company to mine and commercialize data from open source projects such as SourceForge, but results were "lackluster," Lyman says. Competitors include include Koders, which has classifieds for developers, and Krugle, which has an open source code search engine, although the goals of those projects are somewhat different, notes Lyman.
The use of Ohloh to comb through code and find software license information also means competition with intellectual property scanning and governance players Black Duck and Palamida, he says.
Bernard Golden, published of the Navica open source newsletter asks, "Does this mesh with the way people behave when they want to find a service provider?" He doesn't think so, arguing that it's more likely they would directly to the project, or to a user they trust.
There are reasons to be skeptical about Ohloh, but every new social force -- and open source is surely such a force -- goes through many iterations and takes many different turns before maturity. Even if individual implementations fail, the next guy will have something to learn from.
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