Openbase wants to be the Yelp for open source software packages
January 13, 2021
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Open source has eaten the world, evidenced by the myriad major deals that have gone down in open source town in recent times. In 2018, IBM snapped up enterprise-focused open source software maker Red Hat for an eye-popping $34 billion, while Salesforce bought Mulesoft for $6.5 billion a year previous. And just yesterday, Cockroach Labs, maker of the open source distributed SQL database CockroachDB, raised $160 million at a $2 billion valuation.

Most of the major technology companies these days not only use open source software, but actively contribute to the projects. They even open source their own tools where it makes sense, as Facebook did with its React JavaScript library which is now a prominent front-end development tool.

However, there are some 1.5 million JavaScript packages alone out there, making it difficult for developers to research and evaluate the quality of each one. And it’s against that backdrop that San Francisco-based Openbase is setting out to help developers choose from these millions of open source packages that serve as the building blocks of much of today’s software.

Package data

Founded in 2019, Openbase’s raison d’être is to surface the best open source packages across hundreds of categories, displaying data on weekly downloads, monthly commits, and even GitHub stars. There are other search conduits that serve a similar function, for example GitHub itself and open source package registries such as NPM, PyPi, and Maven, however Openbase goes further by offering granular categorization and search filters, and deeper insights around development activity, popularity, and maintenance. But more than that, Openbase is also opening things up to user reviews. “Think Yelp for open source,” founder and CEO Lior Grossman told VentureBeat.

Above: Openbase: Reviews and ratings for Vue JavaScript framework

A graduate of Y Combinator’s (YC) summer 2020 program, Openbase today announced it has raised a $3.6 million in a seed round of funding led by Zeev Ventures, with participation from YC and 20 angel investors including notable figures from the open source world such as Heroku CEO Adam Gross; Docker cofounder Sebastien Pahl; and Netlify founders Mathias Biilmann and Christian Bach. Yelp CEO and cofounder Jeremy Stoppleman also participated in the round.

Openbase said that it currently supports all JavaScript packages, though it does also support additional languages (e.g. Python, Java, Go, and Rust) in beta, something that its fresh investment will help it go deeper on. In terms of how all the packages appear on Openbase, well, Grossman said that the process is 100% automatic and is always up-to-date. “We use the APIs of package registries to make sure that all new packages appear immediately, and new versions of packages are scanned and updated within Openbase.”

Above: How Facebook’s React library looks on Openbase

The company said that it has grown its platform to more than 500,000 developers a month in just over a year, and hopes to build on that through its “unique analysis and insights of packages that aren’t available elsewhere,” according to Grossman. This includes displaying a package’s star count evolution (i.e. has it improved or deteriorated?), the average time between major and minor releases, and how long it takes to resolve issues.

Review bombs

The issue of online reviews is something of a thorny subject across the online world, with review bombing and similar antics often used to nefarious ends. Indeed, many open source developers work completely for free in their spare time, so it’s entirely conceivable that a platform such as Openbase could deter developers if the review system is mis-used. Grossman said that the company “takes reviews very seriously” and has put measures in place to counter some of the potential downsides.

“We currently moderate each and every review that goes on the platform, to verify the authenticity, legitimacy and quality of the review, and we’ll keep doing that for the foreseeable future to ensure high quality of reviews,” Grossman said. “We have built an entire back-office system specifically for the purpose of moderating reviews.”

Additionally, there is a flag button that “allows users to report problematic reviews,” with Openbase investigating each case by itself. Such a system might not be sustainable in the long run, though, which is why the company may delegate some of this responsibility to the community as it grows. “Right now, most of this work is done internally, [but] over time we would like to involve the community more in these efforts by appointing community moderators,” Grossman said.

The business of open source

While Openbase has yet to implement a business model, Openbase will be entirely free for developers to use. The company eventually plans to introduce a subscription model for vendors, so that companies spanning the API, SaaS, infrastructure, and developer tools space pay for more customization, “enhanced call-to-actions,” and to have their package promoted throughout Openbase.

Ultimately, Openbase could serve as a valuable inroad to qualified leads. Although it doesn’t work with companies directly, it does claim to serve developers across the spectrum, from indies and freelancers, to employees at Facebook, Google, and Amazon. “With 500,000 developers visiting Openbase every month, we’re at the decision point for billions of dollars in IT spent,” Grossman said.


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