Why Sharetribe is open source

We were recently asked why we decided to make Sharetribe open source. This post is aimed to clarify our reasoning.

Let’s start from the purpose of the project and our company. What is the change we want to see in the world? We got together with our team last year and clarified our shared purpose. One of the three parts goes like this:

Democratize platform ownership by making it easy for anyone to build and run their own marketplace. We don’t want a future where a large part of the value created in the collaborative economy is extracted by the one percent. The marketplace platforms should take only what they need to survive, and distribute the rest to the providers doing the actual work. This can be achieved if the platform technology is commoditized. If some platform tries to extract too much value, it is easy for anyone to set up a competing platform.

We think that offering an open source platform is the best way to achieve true democratization of the platform/sharing economy, as described in our purpose.

Naturally, we recognize the fact that we can only achieve this purpose if we’re able to make Sharetribe sustainable and have enough resources for product development. Thus, our company also needs to make money.

However, making money doesn’t contradict in any way with being open source. In fact, we believe that being open source actually also helps us grow as a business. The example we often look up to is WordPress. They started with a goal of democratizing online publishing, and have achieved that by combining an open source software product and a Software-as-a-Service platform that offers services on top of the open source product. This combination has allowed them to create a huge ecosystem and become the biggest content management system in the world. Today, they power 25% of all the websites on the internet. What’s more, Automattic, the company behind WordPress, is a big business.

We want to do what WordPress did and apply it to online marketplaces. We want to be the biggest marketplace CMS, and we think WordPress strategy — combining open source software with effortless SaaS — is the best way to achieve this. We want to maximize the number of people who use Sharetribe: the more it’s used, the more feedback and code contributions we get, improving Sharetribe for everyone.

Being open source also offers a great value proposition to customers of our paid SaaS product. We can tell them that if they ever want to leave our hosted version, they are free to install the open source code on their own server along with their exported data. Sharetribe creates no lock-in for the people using it. We don’t believe in walled gardens. We believe in a free, open web.