Developer > Project, or Project > Developer(s)?

I’ve been fooling around with “git” lately – it’s useful for local projects where I don’t want to have to set up a remote server, and it also seems to be “the way the wind is blowing” – lots of open source projects are starting to use it, so I might as well familiarize myself with how it works.

The github service seems to be very popular at the moment, and it’s not hard to see why. They’ve created a very useful service, and give it away completely free for open source use. That’s a pretty good deal! It’s also an easy to use site that’s well integrated with git, so you can see lots of stuff graphically instead of fooling around with command line tools.

However, I have a nagging doubt. Github apparently bases everything around the developer. In other words, projects hosted there are mostly attached to a developer who ‘owns’ the project, rather than existing on their own. There are a few exceptions – there seems to be a ‘rails’ role account to manage Rails, rather than having it belong to, say, DHH, so it’s not impossible to do something in a project-centric fashion, but it doesn’t seem to be very common either.

What I’m wondering is what sort of effects this might have in the long term. Github, and git itself, make it very easy to ‘fork’ projects. Could, or will this lead to a situation where people don’t try so hard to get their code in the ‘official’ branch? What happens when someone loses interest in their project? Sure, someone else can fork their repository, but if all the links were pointing to the first guy, because he was the main hacker on a project for X years, they’re not going to switch overnight even if guy B takes over maintanance. And in the meantime, casual searchers might turn up the ‘dead’ branch, or simply be confused as to who’s doing what. This could make things confusing for someone who just wants to check out some code and start using it…. trying to sort out various revisions and ancestry of a project could be quite discouraging.

At the Apache Software Foundation, on the other hand, people are obviously very important, but projects are the organizational unit that people get involved with, and a lot of emphasis is placed on not having one big benevolent dictator, but on having a group of people who make decisions and act as arbiters of what goes into the project. People can come and go as they please, but the project, and, importantly, the links to it, remain the same over time (barring any big, unforeseen blowups).

As far as I can tell, this is not a git problem, but something related to how github organizes their site. And, of course, it’s possible that I have simply missed something due to my lack of knowledge of git, and not being more than superficially familiar with github. Even if I’m right, it shouldn’t take that much effort for github to create a system where it’s possible for multiple people to ‘own’ a project.

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