Can GitHub Save America?

Trawling through the March 2013 edition of Inc. magazine just before throwing the switch on another day at the MacBook, Mediolana’s CSO and Creative Director Asad Yawar was struck by a Will Bourne (Fast Company, The Village Voice) piece detailing the rise and rise of GitHub, a coding portal valued at a 1999-esque US$750m. A little like Wikipedia, GitHub is a collaborative platform for software programmers to either (i) build open-source software for free; or (ii) develop proprietary software behind a paywall. With its clean interface and burgeoning community –  GitHub is attracting 10,000 new users every single weekday – the California-based company with working practices reminiscent of the dotcom glory days (employees set their own hours inside a giant loft replete with ping-pong table and XBox 360) represents a new generation of tech companies with rock-solid balance sheets.

But can companies such as GitHub turn around the United States economy? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana think that this is possible, but not necessarily probable:

1. Working For Free? The GitHub model seems at least partially dependent on the contributions of countless software engineers to its open-source component. With a single GitHub project possibly entailing months if not years of ‘hypergranular’ labour, members of the GitHub community will have to feel it is worth their while to allocate their time to the portal if its initial success is to be sustained. Of course, these engineers may be rationally calculating that the benefits of using the portal, including access to other entities’ open-source code, makes it all worthwhile. But we would be interested to ascertain the average ROI per hour spent coding on GitHub.

2. Education, Education, Education. To even understand what GitHub is all about, let alone comprehend what might be possible with it (and we are not claiming any special insight in this regard) is no cheap thrill. The end user will need to possess strong mathematical and symbolic analysis skills, two areas where the United States is in seemingly terminal decline. Of course, part of the beauty of GitHub is that it is not restricted by borders, but repatriating profits produced elsewhere is presently not an attractive option owing to the Byzantine irrationalities of certain parts of the US tax code.

3. Broader Economy? The really profitable bits of GitHub are the big corporate clients lurking behind the paywall. Many of these seem to be American – some of them in rude health, others contemplating a much less spectacular future. The internationalisation of GitHub’s commercial clientele seems inevitable – but again, the contribution to the local economy is likely to be minimised.



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2 responses to “Can GitHub Save America?

  1. Well one must hand it to the US for developing new business models for the internet. It still has massive economic problems which seem to be partly caused by treating real reality as virtual reality, and they won’t go away in a hurry. However I think any sort of collaborative project on this scale should be applauded as an achievement.

    • GitHub is an amazing achievement – simply revolutionary – but whether it helps or (unintentionally) exploits the average user is another issue. For most people, time is money – so giving thousands of hours of labour to a website for no direct financial return is potentially not that great an idea.

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