Social news site reddit today announced that it is open-sourcing the majority of the site's code, including parts of the algorithm that determines what stories hit the front page.
"When we say 'open-source' we mean specifically that the code behind reddit is available to the public for download, and we're inviting the public to submit code to help improve the site", reads the official company blog.
And in a thinly disguised dig at competitor Digg (sorry Ed. I couldn't resist) reddit says that, along with embracing the developer community who make up a large proportion of the site's user base, they've "always strived to be as open and transparent with our users as possible, and this is the next logical step."
Prominent members of Digg's community have been highly critical of the site's secrecy and lack of public accountability in terms of how the voting algorithm operates and why certain users have to work much harder than others in order to get stories voted onto Digg's front page. By open-sourcing reddit's codebase, the company looks a million times more responsive to its own community, and is certainly taking the moral high ground.
Of course, much of Digg's lack of transparency is based on a need to keep the site's secret sauce away from spammers and those trying to game the system. To that end, will reddit's open-source move lead to more gaming of the site's front page?
Open Source != special sauce
The short answer is no. Only about 95% of the code is being made public, and that doesn't include the parts of the site's special sauce relating to fighting spam or attempts to game the system, say reddit.
What about creating reddit competitors using reddit's own code?
From the reddit blog:
All reddit code is licensed under the Common Public Attribution License, [the same license used by Facebook] which is basically the Mozilla license with a handful of changes. Specifically, the CPAL stipulates that when running reddit's code publicly, any changes to the code must be made available publicly and the site must make clear that it is running reddit code.
While this means that competitors are free to create niche "reddits" or even direct competitors, using reddit's code, I'm in agreement with ReadWriteWeb's Josh Catone, who says that going open source: "... makes sense for Reddit, which has grown because of very passionate and technically savvy community... Open sourcing Reddit's code will very likely lead to a stronger product and tighter community, and not to the birth of strong competitors."
Is Digg's Kevin Rose listening?