What Everyblock owes Knight after its open source success

Summary:There is an assumption among journalists that when a company is acquired its founders become rich. This often happens. More often, founders just breathe a sigh of relief knowing they have survived the experience and their baby has found a new home.

The Knight Foundation, as part of its efforts to improve online journalism, gave a $1.1 million grant for the launch of Everyblock in 2006.

Everyblock used the money to build a GPL code base that aggregates local information for use by news sites. Here, for instance, is its recent report on my home zip code.

Last month, however, Everyblock was acquired by MSNBC. Terms of the deal were not disclosed but should Knight get its money back, even a little of it?

A better question might be, is there any money to get? In making the announcement the Everyblock blog indicated it was really looking for a way to sustain itself after the Knight money ran out, and MSNBC's investment will go mainly into making the site more valuable.

And the code is still available, all of it, under the GPL.

Founder Adrian Holovaty is mainly involved these days with another open source project, Django, and his own post on the deal drew a string of attaboys from around the world. There are no reports of him tooling around his home town of Chicago in a fancy car, buying fancy threads, building a fancy home or buying Oprah Winfrey dinner.

It wasn't that kind of acquisition.

Despite this some journalists who commented at the Nieman Lab blog posting about the deal seemed to have a feeling of seller's remorse. One asked whether all the code was released. Another asked whether revisions to the code would remain open source.

All this upset Holovaty, who responded within the thread that the charges are not true. All the code was released, he said, and he has given Knight kudos in every interview.

At the Online News Association show in San Francisco, Knight journalism program officer Gary Kebbel said future grant language will change. Again, he was not specific.

Andrew Hazlett noted that when "The Civil War" became a huge hit producer Ken Burns repaid much of his grant money. But Everyblock is not "The Civil War".

There is an assumption among journalists that when a company is acquired its founders become rich. This often happens. More often, founders just breathe a sigh of relief knowing they have survived the experience and their baby has found a new home.

Some statement from MSNBC about the financial facts would probably end the speculation, my guess being that they only paid enough to sustain the project. And MSNBC's future generosity to the Knight Foundation might be worth a press release as well, whenever that occurs.

But this jealousy by journalists is unseemly and based on ignorance.

In the world of open source projects move from non-profit to for-profit sponsorship all the time. It is normally considered a good thing. It is not a sign the original sponsors are bad. It means they have a solid structure in place to keep development going.

It's an illustration of just how far journalists live from the real world that they could get jealous over good news.

Topics: Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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