Indian startups love open source software. And why not? They’re free, readily available, reliable and there for the taking whenever you want it. Open source makes much of the internet and the applications we see and use today.
This is the story of givers and takers. And of a skewed balance; of reasons and excuses. The love that the startups have for open source is defined by needs they have. The one-sided relationship that the Indian startups have with the open source community turns the narrative into an unrequited love story. What is it that Indian startups lack—time, resources, reasons or just the spirit of giving back?
India has the second largest number of developers globally and it is also a hotbed of technology startups – 4,750 of them this year, shooting up to 10,500 by 2020, says a recent report by the industry lobby Nasscom. It’s fair to say, most, if not all of them, would be users of open source software — computer programs that can be freely downloaded, modified and used to build further stuff upon. Given the dynamics of how startups evolve, is it unfair to expect some camaraderie from them?
Indian startups: Missing-in-action
For most startups, in their struggle to survive, things like giving back to the community take a back seat. Fair enough. But those who have found their ground, and have money and resources, can at least foster a culture of open exchange and collaborative participation. Clinging to their conscience, some of them do make attempts – fix bugs in the code they’re using, or report it. A few even create new, derivative projects and make it available to the larger developer community to work on, in the process adding back something substantial to the existing projects.
That’s how far things go in India. Nobody knows for sure, how much value startups add. Maybe not even 1% of what they take.
“It is not innovation, it is fixing,” says Kiran Jonnalagadda, co-founder of Hasgeek, which organises events for technology users and developers. “It is one thing you say that something is not working, and you fix it. It is another thing to say, here is the new idea for this (existing) project. Let’s implement this. So the new idea part is where the industry is not doing anything. There is no project leadership. (As for) the new significant projects, there is no evidence of that happening as well.”
This is borne out of what some of the startups which have made names for themselves are doing. On Github, which is the de-facto hosting website for open source projects and where most notable Indian startups are active, the show is far from impressive.