Death of an Open Source Business Model

Eulogy for a simpler time

I work at Azavea, but this is my personal blog. What’s written here is my personal opinion and nothing more. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Spooky. Photo by Wendy Scofield on Unsplash

Back to Mapbox

In the case of Mapbox GL JS, Mapbox had previously decided to openly license the first two versions of the their browser-based map renderer (the same one that powers Snap Maps, the New York Times, and CNN among myriad others). Ever since the initial release in 2014, it’s been incredibly popular among web developers. Once you know what you’re looking for, you start to see it…everywhere.

That big map John King so fondly stroked all night? It’s powered by Mapbox GL JS. Source: Washington Post.
A compute-intensive feature that Mapbox GL JS makes possible to do in the browser. Source: GroundWork.

Open Core is No Longer a Tenable Business Model

Mapbox’s choice to keep v2 of Mapbox GL JS proprietary is a strong signal. But what precisely the signal is indicating is…less clear. Nonetheless, I’ll bite.⁴

Open core is dead, you say? Source: Google Finance
Someday, I hope to create something worthy of being called an “abrogation.”

Back to Mapbox, Again

There is at least one cloud provider that has publicly copy-and-pasted Mapbox code into services they charge for: Azure, Microsoft’s cloud service. Last year, Azure announced map styling powered by Mapbox GL JS and it remains a key feature of their “Azure Maps” service. Mapbox even wrote an announcement about it on their company blog.

Preach, Saman.

Remembering the Good Times

Once upon a time, I really thought you could give away your trade secrets and still be successful. I thought the scale of the internet had enabled a new genre of company that could become massive despite only capturing an infinitesimally small fraction of the value they created. I believed the act of building a company around open source software was virtuous and ethical. I saw it as an end in itself.

Comedic relief at Umbra. Writing about maps and the people that make them. For inquiries: jrmorrison.jrm [at] gmail [dot] com