Dimdim Lives up to its Name

Dimdim is a Web-based collaboration platform that I signed up for ages ago, but never quite got around to using. Looks like I may have missed my opportunity: Salesforce.com, the enterprise cloud computing (http://www.salesforce.com/cloudcomputin...


Dimdim is a Web-based collaboration platform that I signed up for ages ago, but never quite got around to using. Looks like I may have missed my opportunity:

Salesforce.com, the enterprise cloud computing (http://www.salesforce.com/cloudcomputing/) company, today announced it has completed its acquisition of Dimdim for approximately $31 million in cash, net of cash acquired.

I signed up because Dimdim is a company that is based on open source – or at least up to a certain point, as Wikipedia explains:

Dimdim is made available primarily as an enterprise edition and as a Virtual Machine appliance, but an open source community edition has also been made available to developers under the GNU General Public License (GPL), giving them the option to install and host Dimdim in their own networks. The most recent open source version, released in December 2008 and hosted at sourceforge.net, is V4.5 "Liberty". Distributives of the system for the installation to several OSes, Virtual Machines and the corresponding documentation are available in several archives on the SourceForge.net Dimdim site.

Dimdim has come under heavy criticism lately by a large section of the community for not releasing an open source version after the 4.5 version. It has been accused of using open source as a means of publicity but never actually being committed to the community. The lack of a proper public repository and no communication between the developers and the community further questions the intent.

As of December 2010, at Dimdim's website, there was no download available for the Opensource version and the only way to download it was from the SourceForge.net. Except for the forums section, there was no mention of the OpenSource version on the company's new site.

That suggests a regrettable lack of commitment to its open source community, something confirmed by the company's own FAQ on the acquisition by Salesforce:

What will happen to the Open Source version of Dimdim?

The open source code made available by Dimdim remains available on SourceForge.net. Dimdim will no longer be contributing to this project.

Abandonware, then.

Many of the comments on SourceForge are negative:

It appears the company creating this product used the open source idea long enough to generate revenue. Then the opensource and the community that was built around it was tossed aside. The source available here is VERY outdated when compared to all the changes features and enhancements made to their currently running product.

And even some of the minority (30%) that rate the code positively are pretty, well, negative:

I love the product... but their lack of support for the open source community in recent years has forced me to contact Linus Torvalds and request that he pressure the powers that be to launch an investigation into their practices under the guise of the GPL license. Good luck DIMDIM... I hope you see the light. If not, I hope you enjoy sinking with your ship.

This looks like a really foolish move by Salesforce. If we have learned anything in the last 15 years, it is that having an enthusiastic, vibrant community behind a product brings all kinds of benefits in terms of feedback, bug-fixing, marketing and so on. To throw that away, as Salesforce seems to be doing, is shortsighted and retrogressive – even Microsoft is moving to embrace free software and its communities.

It also tends to confirm my suspicion that Salesforce is not actually a modern software company, despite its claim to be in the currently-trendy category of "enterprise cloud computing company". It's more of an old-style, closed-source, command-and-control outfit that happens to deliver its wares over the Internet. I'd be interested to know if it supports/contributes to any open source at all – I can't think of or find anything (anyone else know?)

I suspect that in the light of the company's recent indifference towards its community, culminating in this sale and the abandonment of the free software version altogether, Dimdim will become a by-word for how not to build a sustainable business around open source. At least they chose a good name...

Update: One obvious response is to fork the Dimdim code, and Tryggvi Björgvinsson has just mentioned to me on identi.ca the splendidly-named miDmiD:

miDmiD is a fork of the popular web conferencing software DimDim. DimDim, the company, abandoned the community edition of the popular software in 2008. This project will host an open source web conferencing suite based from the original DimDim 4.1 code, and will expand its features and functions now that DimDim is officially purchased by SalesForce.

Sounds great – let's hope they succeed.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

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