Open Letter to SourceForge

by David Sugar

SourceForge staff,

While I had not noticed this at first, it has come to my awareness that VA is now appending advertising to SourceForge project mailing lists. Advertising is certainly nothing new at SourceForge, as there are annoying banner ads, and consequentially for this reason, and because SourceForge is no longer being developed as free software, I have largely withdrawn from using it, except principally to continue hosting pre-existing mailing lists using your "mailman" list server.

However, I find this new use of mailing lists for stealth advertising both unethical and offensive, because they appear as if they were signature lines placed by the original poster. It is neither clear that the advertised products or services are not being endorsed and promoted by the message poster himself, nor is that any better than spamming unsuspecting users with unwanted junk e-mail, which is an equally disgusting practice. It is also perturbing to consider that such lists may be used to advertise proprietary software or potentially other products or services of similarly questionable ethical character.

Certainly I am free as a developer to terminate the use of any remaining services hosted by VA, and under these present intolerable circumstances, I see no choice but to do this. If there is no satisfactory response to this present situation, I am prepared to immediately close these remaining lists and request [that] any current projects I still have shown on SourceForge be de-listed. Fortunately, we do have several lists already available on, and it would not take that long to merge the existing SourceForge list memberships into those with fairly minimal disruption. We also have an excellent system in place for free software development using Savannah.

My hope is that VA would reconsider some of it's recent policies and practices. I believe everyone would like to see SourceForge continue to be available and used as a developer community resource. I also fully appreciate the need VA has for finding some revenue model to continue providing SourceForge as a resource. However, I do not believe these specific practices will make this possible.

David SugarGNU Maintainer

Hello David,

I just saw your email(s). I've been on vacation during the past week and the pile of unread emails was sky high when I returned.

About ~45 days ago we started to put 2 line text messages at the bottom of mailing lists.

As you probably know, running a site with over 3 million page views a day, 300,000 downloaded files a day, 700,000 emails a day, 80 servers, and a staff of people is very expensive.

We are using the email text messages, like many other sites, as a small way to offset some of the costs of running for the Open Source Community.

Since the inception of these text messages, we have received very few complaints. I think the number is less than 10, which is pretty good considering we send out over 700,000 emails a day.

I think the reason why the complaints are so low is:

A) We told people about it before we did it. It was listed on the site prior to us going live.

B) Every email has the same ad. We change it approx once a week. Anyone getting more then one email can see that the ads are consistent and hence not part of the sig of the user.

C) The ads are not archived with the email when they are stored on the site for others to see on SF.NET. We strip out the ads to cut down on confusion.

D) Two lines of text is very consistent with what other sites are doing. At the bottom of the email it doesn't get in the way of the actual message.

Of the 10 people who have written us so far, you are the first to bring up the "stealth advertising" discussion. I understand what you are saying, but I haven't seen evidence from the feedback we've been getting that users are confused [by] what is an ad and what is a sig. Certainly there is no stealth intent from either us or our advertisers.

One thing we could possibly do is change the top delimiter from dashes to something like "Sponsored by:". It might help. I'll discuss it with the staff.

Thank you for the feedback. If you have any other questions/concerns please feel free to email me.


Editors' Note: David Sugar is the leader of the Bayonne Project, and Patrick McGovern is the site director for For more information about Savannah, visit the Savannah project web site and read the March 2002 UpFront column in LJ.


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