We need to talk about your Github addiction

by Ploum on 2023-02-22

Listen my fellow geeks in code, we need to have a serious conversation about Github.

At first, Github was only a convenient way to host a git repository and to collaborate with others. But, as always with monopolies, once you are trapped by convenience and the network effect, the shitification process starts to try to get as much money and data from you.

First of all, let’s remember that Github is a fully proprietary service. Using it to host the development of a free software makes no sense if you value freedom. It is not like we don’t have many alternatives available (sourcehut, codeberg, gitlab, etc). It should be noted that those alternatives usually offer a better workflow and a better git integration than Github. They usually make more sense but, I agree, it might be hard to change ten years of suboptimal habits imposed by the github workflow.

One thing that always annoyed me with Github is the "fun factor". Emojis appearing automatically in messages I’m trying to post, intrusive notifications about badges and followers I earned. Annoying, to say the least. (Am I the only one using ":" in a sentence without willing to make an emoji?)

But I discovered that Github is now pushing it even more in that direction: a feed full of random projects and people I don’t care about, notifications to get me to "discover" new projects and "follow" new persons. They don’t even try to pretend to be a professional platform anymore. It’s a pure attention-grabbing personal data extorting social networks. To add insult to injury, we now know that everything published on Github is mostly there to serve as training data for Microsoft AI engines.

Developers are now raw meat encouraged to get stars, followers and commit counters, doing the most stupid things in the most appealing way to get… visibility! Yeah! Engagement! Followers! Audience!

Good code is written when people are focused, thinking hard about a problem while having the time to grasp the big picture. Modern Github seems to be purposely built as a tool to avoid people thinking about what they do and discourage them from writing anything but a new JavaScript framework.

There’s no way I can morally keep an account on Github. I’ve migrated all of my own projects to Sourcehut (where I’ve a paid account) or to my university self-hosted gitlab.

But there are so many projects I care about still on Github. So many important free software. So many small projects where I might send an occasional bug report or even a patch. For the anecdote, on at least two different occasions, I didn’t send a patch I crafted for small projects because I didn’t know how to send it by mail and was not in the mood to deal with the Github workflow at that particular time.

By keeping your project on Github, you are encouraging new developers to sign up there, to create their own project there. Most importantly, you support the idea that all geeks/developers are somehow on Github, that it is a badge of pride to be there.

If you care about only one of software freedom, privacy, focus, sane market without monopoly or if you simply believe we don’t need even more bullshit in our lives, you should move your projects out of Github and advocate a similar migration to projects you care about. Thanks to git decentralisation, you could even provide an alternative/backup while keeping github for a while.

If you don’t have any idea where to go, that should be a red light in your brain about monopoly abuses. If you are a professional developer and using anything other than Github seems hard, it should be a triple red light warning.

And I’m not saying that because grumpy-old-beard-me wants to escape those instagramesque emojis. Well, not only that but, indeed, I don’t wanna know the next innovative engagement-fostering feature. Thanks.

The best time to leave Github was before it was acquired by Microsoft. The second-best time is now. Sooner or later, you will be forced out of Github like we, oldies, were forced out of Sourceforge. Better leaving while you are free to do it on your own terms…

As a writer and an engineer, I like to explore how technology impacts society. You can subscribe by email or by rss. I value privacy and never share your adress.

If you read French, you can support me by buying/sharing/reading my books and subscribing to my newsletter in French or RSS. I also develop Free Software.