An interesting thing happened on Hacker News yesterday that highlights some complexities around innovation and compensation in today’s world.
Within hours, someone posted a free open source version of visitor.js.
However you feel about this emotionally, here are two facts I believe to be true:
- The creation of the open source version of visitor.js is good for the industry as a whole. It’s yet another tool that developers everywhere can use and repurpose however they see fit.
- The open source version makes it harder for the people behind the original visitor.js to make money from their efforts. Hacker News has provided a disincentive for their innovation.
The economics of software are funny. If you build a service that’s really deep so no one can easily copy it (like Twilio), you can survive. If you build a site that accumulates millions of users, no one can easily take them away from you even if they replicate your product.
But if you do something that’s kind of cool, like visitor.js, you’ve added value to the ecosystem of technical tools, but… you don’t get compensated for this value
This dynamic creates a world where independent developers are increasingly effective at building things, but making money from what we build is more difficult.