nice work--can I just take that from you? k-thx-bye
June 14, 2012 9:42 AM   Subscribe

I have a really interesting idea for a web app that I've been kicking around for a while. Today I discovered a site that implements some of the core functionality, but seems to be a low-priority side project for the developer. I'm thinking about asking if he wants to work together. Good idea?

I'm not a programmer. I have a lot of domain knowledge and contacts in the area, a strong user experience concept, self-taught front-end production skills, and the drive and enthusiasm to launch this as a real product.

The developer is a Ruby on Rails pro who has a day job at a well-known social site. The hobby site is well-designed and functional, but maybe a little too minimal to be of much use. It needs a few more key features and some attention to UX to really have a chance of going anywhere. It also hasn't gotten much uptake or notice since launching last fall.

My husband is a RoR developer and has said that he will work with me on this project, but there's a limit to how much time he can put in. Rather than knocking ourselves out to create a MVP that's more or less a clone of this guy's hobby site, I'd like to approach him about working together.

I could see either partnering with him on a long-term basis or, if he's bored with it, him handing over the code and Mr. Libraryhead picking up where he left off. Ideally we could compensate him somehow, but buying the site for anything more than token money is not really an option. For this to make sense for me, I'd need to have quite a bit of say in the future development of the project. I'm open to collaboration, but if I can't expand it in the ways I have in mind, I'd rather make it from scratch.

If you were the developer in question, how would you feel if this happened to you? How can I frame this as something other than, you did a bunch of work and now I want to swoop in and take it over?

If it matters, at least some of the code is up on GitHub with "The MIT License". I really don't know enough about OpenSource etiquette to even parse what that means. It seems to be an open invitation to build something based on his work, but I'm guessing that doesn't extend to a directly competing site.
posted by libraryhead to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without restriction, including without limitation the rights to use, copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following conditions:

That seems pretty clear. You can build off his code for your idea. It would probably be polite to shoot him an email and thank him for saving you some time and effort, and maybe inquire about the status of his side project at the same time.
posted by COD at 9:53 AM on June 14, 2012

I love it when people make such inquiries, even if I have no time or interest. Just ask for what you want. Sounds like you can use his source code because of the license, too.
posted by michaelh at 10:05 AM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

>> I'm thinking about asking if he wants to work together. Good idea?

Yes, yes it is a good idea.
posted by Blake at 10:06 AM on June 14, 2012

The code being under the MIT license means you're free to use it as you like.

Etiquette wise, I would suggest that you contact the developer and offer to work together on it, as it's just a nice thing to do.
posted by ndfine at 10:27 AM on June 14, 2012

The requirements of the MIT license are, in a nutshell:

1) Retain all attributions. If the programmer put his name on something in a comment, you must leave it there.

2) Do not place any obligations on the original coder. If the code doesn't work right, you're on your own, and the original author owes you nothing.

That's it. The MIT license is the least restrictive official Open Source license there is.

Note, however, that this only applies to code and binary assets. All images and creative work still belong to the original author/artist, who may still assert rights against your use of them. In short: You should use your own icons, photos, prose, videos, and other creative material.
posted by Citrus at 10:44 AM on June 14, 2012

Interesting! Even though open source licenses *say* you can use their stuff, somehow I didn't really think it was for real.

As far as the creative work goes, obviously I wouldn't use his actual images and copy, but there's a limit to how different I could make the UI and still effect the same functions. Plus now that I've seen his, it will inevitably influence my design, even if I try to avoid it. Do I need to go out of my way to avoid any appearance of copying? I want to be ethically, as well as legally, in the clear.
posted by libraryhead at 12:08 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just fork it on GitHub and start sending pull requests with the additions you want to make. It's a pretty straightforward and socially-accepted way to start working with people.

Appearance can't be copyrighted/trademarked in most cases, and likely not this one. I wouldn't worry about that.
posted by rhizome at 12:19 PM on June 14, 2012

If you were the developer in question, how would you feel if this happened to you?

I would be delighted. Seeing that others can do something useful with your code is very gratifying.
posted by dgran at 1:15 PM on June 14, 2012

Today I had someone ask if they could pick up a project that, in my mind, was finished. He wanted to take it to the next level. I told the person they were welcome to it, and thank you very much! In fact, keep me in the loop on progress so I can help promote it. And I will! Just because this person's additions don't appeal to me doesn't mean that others won't find it incredibly useful.

I've also had people do the same thing without asking (they don't need to as I also use the MIT license) but I like the people who ask a lot more and they get free words of encouragement from me.

So yes, ask! Though don't expect a deep collaboration. There's a reason the project is in it's current state.
posted by Ookseer at 6:00 PM on June 14, 2012

And about forking on GitHub, don't worry about establishing contact first or anything. He'll just be going about his day when he starts getting pull requests from you guys, and he'll think to himself, "huh, I guess someone's going to town," look over your patches, and accept them. MIT pretty much comes down to not erasing people's names that are already in there, and adding yours.
posted by rhizome at 7:15 PM on June 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

If there's an MIT license attached to everything, you're both morally and legally clear to remix it however you wants long as you retain attribution. What's more, any developer who uses that license is likely signaling that they *hope* you'll do something like what you've described.

The open source license works exactly like your most optimistic self would hope it might. Email that developer to let them know your plans and I'm sure they'll be excited. Go make something great.
posted by anildash at 10:01 PM on June 14, 2012

Thanks so much for the encouragement. I've emailed the developer. See you on MeFi Projects!
posted by libraryhead at 6:15 PM on June 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

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