Desperation or direction? Geeknet sells off Ohloh.net to Black Duck

Can Geeknet get its mojo back?

Is SourceForge.net Geeknet finally getting some direction? Last May SourceForge acquired Ohloh. Since then, it's had an executive shakeup, two rounds of layoffs, changed its name, and is now selling off Ohloh to Black Duck after doing very little with the site in the interim. Is this a sign of direction or just jettisoning a bad purchase?

You have to give the company credit for not being boring. In 10 years it's changed identities and strategies more than David Bowie. Also with fewer hits. SourceForge started as VA Linux Systems, then VA Research, VA Software, SourceForge, and now Geeknet. The company tried to sell Linux servers, then enterprise project control, and all manner of open source related Web sites — some of which it acquired from Andover.net, plus its big dollar purchase of Linux.com during the early tech boom.

I spent two years (August 2005 to August 2007) working for OSTG/SourceForge on Linux.com, during which time the company almost completely ignored the site and other OSTG properties. It shuttered advertiser favorite IT Manager's Journal, and folded NewsForge into Linux.com — which it then spun off to the Linux Foundation, rather than actually doing anything to improve and develop the site.

The company has had two layoffs since late 2009, and it's really unclear where the company is going or what it wants to be when it grows up. All that's left now is ThinkGeek, Slashdot.org, SourceForge.net, and Freshmeat.

SourceForge.net is seeing heavy competition from services like Google Code, Github, and Gitorious. It still hosts quite a few projects, but it's not the default choice for starter projects or established open source projects. It also lacks any kind of public face or focal point for community feedback since the company let Ross Turk go last year.

Slashdot's glory days are long behind it, having been largely subsumed by Digg and Reddit, and lost its mojo as the site to visit for the first shot at news. Once upon a time, other sites clamored to copy Slashdot while it scooped story after story. These days? You've seen the Slashdot headlines hours or days before elsewhere before they hit the front page of Slashdot. The days when a Slashdotting could bring down a server are entirely in the past, and not because servers have gotten beefier in the interim. Freshmeat keeps chugging away, but it's also far removed from its glory days when it was the site to watch for information about new open source projects or project updates.

ThinkGeek, being the only site in the Geeknet portfolio that isn't dependent on advertising revenue, seems to be doing well.

Do something different

It might be too late, but it'd be nice to see Geeknet revive the properties it has left. Selling Ohloh was a good call, assuming it was strategic and not simply sloughing off a bad buy. The next step should be a drastic editorial overhaul of Slashdot, and real change to make SourceForge relevant to FOSS projects.

By "drastic overhaul," I don't mean yet another site redesign or revision, I mean actually investing in original editorial for the audience. Link blogs are a dime a dozen these days, Slashdot could buck the trend by bringing in real writers and providing original content for the geek audience. More expensive, but worth it.

Sourceforge is in dire need of a real overhaul. The site is too complex, and really doesn't offer anything that can't be found via Google Code Hosting (except ads). Geeknet should bring in someone that understands the FOSS community to help revise the site to attract major projects and nurture new ones. And a little quality control wouldn't hurt. At first glance, it looks like the site is attracting a bunch of new projects, but on closer inspection quite a few are spam or wholly inappropriate. The approach SourceForge has tried to take is to add, add, add features to the point of bloat. They need to simplify the site, narrow down what they offer to a core competency, and provide more than tools. It could be a massive force for open source development if the company put some effort into helping projects along, but now it's just a clunky, self-serve site without a compelling advantage over other services.

I'd be curious to know what others think — aside from ThinkGeek, is there hope for Geeknet? Is there a point, or will the company keep shedding sites one by one until there's nothing but ThinkGeek left to sell?

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