The next GitHub CEO promises Microsoft won't turn it into a 'swamp' of ads

Key Points
  • Microsoft generates revenue in part by running ads in many of its products, like Bing, LinkedIn and Skype.
  • Nat Friedman, who will take over GitHub after Microsoft closes the acquisition, said the code-sharing site SourceForge turned into a "swamp" chock full of ads after it was bought.
From left, GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and future GitHub CEO Nat Friedman at GitHub headquarters in San Francisco.
Source: Microsoft

Microsoft isn't looking to make money from GitHub by placing ads on the site for storing code, GitHub's next leader said on Thursday.

The sentiment reflects Microsoft's broad intent to be careful not to cripple its latest acquisition and not alienate the site's tens of millions of users.

In a question and answer conversation on Reddit, Nat Friedman, who will become the CEO of GitHub after Microsoft closes the $7.5 billion acquisition, was asked by a Reddit user if people should expect ads to appear on public repositories of code on GitHub.

"No," Friedman replied flatly.

But the idea does have some precedent. In his answer Friedman went on to point out that another website where people could download code, SourceForge, was overrun with ads when it was owned by DHI from 2012 to 2016.

"Some historical context: when GitHub started, SourceForge was the dominant code hosting site on the internet," Friedman wrote. "SourceForge was eventually owned by a media conglomerate, who heavily monetized the site through advertising. It became a swamp of banner ads and pop-ups and delayed downloads to expose users to more ads. GitHub's clean interface and developer-centric approach can be seen in part as a reaction against SourceForge. It's obviously been the right path."

During the time DHI owned SourceForge, it introduced a revenue-sharing program called DevShare. But the system proved to be controversial because it was thought to package "adware" in an installer for downloading software. When BIZX bought SourceForge, the new president of the site proclaimed that it had "completely eliminated" DevShare. But by then, GitHub was widely used for downloading free software.

Microsoft certainly knows how to make money from advertising. It runs ads in products like Bing, LinkedIn, MSN, Outlook and Skype, and in the most recent quarter, Microsoft had $1.78 billion in search ad revenue. Friedman's comments around not advertising on GitHub is reflective of the general desire to keep GitHub operating without unnecessary interruptions.

"Microsoft has learned some hard (expensive) lessons about this type of acquisition," Friedman told a different Reddit user. "Acquisitions under the current Microsoft leadership have a good track record – Minecraft and LinkedIn are examples where Microsoft acquired a successful platform, provided the companies with the resources they needed to accelerate, then let them continue to operate independently. It's working well."

Friedman has first-hand experience with Microsoft acquisitions: He joined the giant when it bought his start-up, Xamarin, in 2016. Like GitHub, Xamarin made tools for software developers.

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