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GitHub isn't fun anymore

June 16, 2020

At first I thought it was just me getting older and more experienced. But after several conversations about it with colleagues and other open source maintainers, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

After a lot of reflection, I believe the turning point was when they changed how the ranking system on the Trending page worked.

The Trending page used to be a straight-up list of the projects with the most new stars in the last 24 hours across the whole site (and by language). I always thought of it as the defacto front page of the open source movement. It was a lil’ site-wide scoreboard and an invaluable project discovery mechanism. I checked it everyday. And, every so often, I’d even see myself on there.

As of this morning, here is the current list of the “top” trending JavaScript projects in the world:

GitHub

No offense to Stripe, but the notion that stripe-samples/subscriptions-use-cases, which has 13 total stars with exactly zero new stars today is the new JavaScript “hotness” is a joke.

This is totally useless to everyone.

Since the death of the Trending page around a year or so ago, I now mostly find myself discovering new repos from my home feed, relying on search (which deserves its own blog post), and checking Twitter more often. TBH, I feel like I’m missing a lot of great new stuff that’s coming out. I also feel more disconnected from the rest of the open source community.

Flawed, but fun

The old Trending algorithm was definitely flawed, but it was simple, objective, and ever so slightly ruthless. It heavily skewed toward JavaScript and web development, but under-indexed a lot of backend and AI stuff. And yet, it was cool as hell that everyone was on the EXACT same playing field and scoreboard. It felt like there was one site-wide community. In this era of Developer Relations, VC-backed open source, and the endless developer-content-bullshit machine, the old Trending page was one of the few places left on the web where it seemed like the best ideas still won.

Nowadays, the big seem to get bigger on GitHub. Established users push out stuff and people just assume it’s good. (Narrator: it isn’t).

Second-order effects

The worst side effect of the new Trending page is that a lot project discovery has moved to other platforms, and more specifically, to Twitter. This isn’t good for the community. We went from a flawed meritocracy to a social network that promotes chaos, tribalism, and idea bubbles. Even if you disagree with me about what Twitter is, I think we can all agree that Twitter is a bad discovery mechanism, and good ideas and good projects are getting lost, especially from newcomers.

I think there is a massive opportunity here for GitHub/Microsoft. It doesn’t make sense that a portion the developer community spends all day on Twitter. Obviously, I’d like to see the old Trending algorithm come back, but I’d also be interested to see more social network-like features on GitHub. I wouldn’t be opposed to a GitHub NewsFeed, project chat, or even DMs.

I’d like to believe that this is an issue that could be fixed with a feature. However, it might also be a symptom of deeper problem.

Food for thought. What do you think?


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Jared Palmer is a software developer based in New York City. He is the founder of Formium, a developer-focused form builder and also the author of popular open source software including Formik, TSDX, and Razzle.