Herr Bischoff

GitHub and Drive-by Committers

About two years ago, I moved most of my projects off GitHub. This was driven in part by the Microsoft acquisition and the accompanying aggressive harvesting of data for their paid coding assistant. Equally — if not more so — it was driven by exhaustion due to a constant barrage of what I call drive-by committers: people who just want to pad their GitHub stats, without regard for quality contributions or even bothering to follow basic guidelines.

At times this issue was exacerbated by reckless publicity stunts like Digital Ocean’s Hacktoberfest, where you got a t-shirt for a single merged GitHub pull request — not accounting for quality. If it got merged, you got a shirt. This inspired countless dweebs to write blog posts and make YouTube videos, providing entirely non-technical people with step-by-step instructions on how to flood GitHub projects with useless single-word changes to their README’s.

I’m aware that my public projects are rather low-level and likely attracted low-level contributors for that reason. After a couple dozen times of politely pointing random would-be contributors to information that was clearly already in front of their faces, I got tired of being their ever-patient unpaid coach, attempting to increase their attention span and reading comprehension. It wasn’t worth it for a one-line contribution I needed to clean up anyway. I’d have been better off asking people to send in their suggestions via email and preparing them myself. This likely wouldn’t have worked anyway, since most of it was clearly about credit.

That’s why I eventually switched to an email-based Git patch workflow. In two years, I have received just a single patch.

For me, it was the correct choice. I now have control over my repositories, have more detailed statistics about their use, don’t have to deal with stars as bookmarks, don’t get distracted by thousands of forks and, most importantly, cut down the noise to almost zero. Sure, this may come at the expense of missing out on some fruitful interactions. I’ve nevertheless found that if someone feels they do have something of value to share, they will find a way.

GitHub is a social media network for code. You cannot be surprised that when you set out to build one, that’s what you get — including all the noise, drama, validation-chasing and narcissism that comes along with it. Humans are beautiful and flawed and messy enough by themselves. I don’t need yet another global amplifier.