James Governor's Monkchips

So where all the GitHub link farms at? Astro-turfing in software development

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Any social network that can be gamed will be gamed. That is to say, all social networks will be gamed, sometimes in harmless or funny ways, some definitely more sinister. It might seem bizarre that anyone would want to buy GitHub stars but it’s an obvious move. Stars are a proxy for interest in a project. Careers and reputations are riding on code hosted on GitHub and perception of interest in those projects. The potential for reputational damage is likely one of the only brakes on the activity. Nobody is going to want to be found out selling their reputation, especially in a community so convinced of its righteous meritocracy. But this righteousness is probably more likely to turn developers into easy marks than anything. If you’re convinced you’re a technical decision maker without any biases then you’re just as likely to fall for confirmation bias as anyone else.

The question about fake activity on GitHub is certainly not academic to RedMonk. After all, our regular Programming Language rankings rely at least in part on data gleaned from the platform (though with population sizes large enough to iron out noise from astro-turfing)

On the face of it’s kind of absurd that fake accounts could have an affect on the success or otherwise of a project. Am I right? Tell it to Hilary Clinton. Perceptions of momentum or otherwise in a project are extremely important. We should remember that folks from software communities industrialised dog-piling, trolling, bots and so on.

So what are some of the ways stars can be gamed, without buying from the dark web. One obvious one would be Big Company activities. You know – the email sent out to all engineers to star a particular project and maybe make a pull request or two. That wouldn’t so bad, would it?

Maybe your VC asks other companies in the portfolio to help out. This isn’t so different from advising other portfolio companies to check out your new tool, right?

Or what about the developer in a community that sends out a bunch of email requests asking them for “some help”, to fix a couple of things. Suddenly you have a bunch of high profile “contributors” for your project. Hey check it out, we’re winning in the marketplace of ideas and code!

I am fairly certain that right now there’s a PR or marcoms firm advising their client how they can boost their GitHub profile.

Of course I am sure most people are more of the how can we get noticed let’s follow some best practices in articles like How To Get Hundreds of Stars on Your GitHub project.

Looks Like GitHub shut down Starbot.

Andrew Carter is on a bit of a mission to call out worrisome activity around PHPixie.

Like I say, sometimes gaming networks is harmless, but other times definitely not. I am not sure how widespread GitHub gaming is at this point, but given the vast sums being poured into open source projects by both VC firms and huge companies like Uber, with excellent moral compasses, I think this is an issue to keep an eye on.


Over lunch with Alexis Richardson and Evan Prodromou these ideas seemed a lot funnier.

One comment

  1. […] team published some interesting research looking at corporate usage of GitHub. Given my post on the danger of GitHub astroturfing yesterday I was keen to dig […]

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