pcb-rnd knowledge pool
How github promotes confusion
github by Tibor 'Igor2' Palinkas on 2017-06-08
Tags: insight, rant, git, github, svn, contribution, contribute
Abstract: Rant about how github promotes confusion by letting users to reuse original project names on forks, while also spreading the false information that joining the project is done via registering at github.
Pcb-rnd is hosted in an svn repository (at svn://repo.hu/pcb-rnd) - there is no official git or hg or bazaar repository . As it is free software, people are encouraged to make and distribute copies. Majority of the cases such behavior is beneficial for users: e.g. when a Linux distro packages pcb-rnd, helping its users to run it or even when a user makes a mirror repository, clearly marked as a mirror.
I also encourage everyone who doesn't like the ways of pcb-rnd but does like the code, to fork the project: copy the repository or the code, rename it, make whatever modification and publish it.
There is only one use pattern I find harmful: when someone makes a fork, clone or mirror without clearly marking it being a copy. Unfortunately this has happened on github and gitlab: a user cloned a very old version of pcb-rnd and called it simply pcb-rnd. This matters because popular web search engines assign high scores to projects hosted on github. A potential user who hears about pcb-rnd not from us (the dev team), will not know the URL of the project and will use a web search, which then promotes github from where he will pull and old version. He may later read the doc and figure it's just a random copy of an old version, and go and get the latest from the official site, but the point is:
- he has wasted time on the wrong version
- other than being a "honey pot" for unlucky users, such an old copy does not have any benefit for the users or developers
- the only potential winner of such a deal is github, harvesting some more clicks
But the real lesson learned for me was not this, but how github is not motivated in avoiding such confusion.
The first meta text on the github page says:
"Contribute to pcb-rnd development by creating an account on GitHub."
This is clearly a lie - that's not how you contribute - instead, contribution is via svn commits and IRC. Unfortunately google picks up the same sentence so this false information is on the first page of a google search on "pcb-rnd".
I first tried to contact the author to ask him to rename his fork; github is not helping much in that: there's no contact info for the user, not even a captcha-protected email or "send a message" form. I'd expect such a service was designed to help people work together, which does include contacting others.
So I went on and found the problematic user's email from other sources. I tried to contact him a few times but he ignored my attempts.
After seeing an actual user getting confused on the said github project, I decided to contact github and see if they are willing to help in renaming the repository to avoid confusion. Well, they are not. I got an answer from the support that made it clear they did not even read the request, just copied some stock answer. After getting through that layer,they said I should file a DMCA take-down request; I asked them whether they think it would apply in case of GPL projects but they said they can't answer that and I should consult a lawyer! But after reading their own material on DMCA it's pretty clear they would simply do nothing even if the said user actually committed copyright infringement.
So my conclusion is: if you ever want to get a project hosted, do NOT choose github , because:
- the support doesn't help at all (they don't even read what you write, just send some semi-automatic answer first)
- they are not really interested in serving the community or the users, but in being the biggest, getting the most clicks - if the path to that is maintaining confusion, that's fine for them
- they don't seem to care much about users who are not registered or not wanting to do pull requests - to an extent that contacting authors is pretty much impossible as an "outsider"
Looking at gitlab, I see similar tendencies. Repo.or.cz looks a bit better, at least there the owner of a repo has an email address.
(All the above is obviously my personal opinion based on my personal experience.)