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When Beloved Developer-Focused Media Sites Get Acquired

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Last year when Stack Overflow was acquired by Prosus, one of the largest technology investors in the world, many developers sat up. Would the quality of this Q&A community diminish? Did Prosus plan to recoup Stack Overflow’s 1.8 Billion price tag by finding a way to bill participants? What does Prosus want with a scrappy, largely dev-led community anyways?

Stack Overflow co-founders Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky anticipated these concerns. It is no accident that Atwood emphasizes that Stack Overflow would “​​continue as an independent site” in his announcement.

For all of these reasons I choked on my coffee a little this morning when I saw that CSS-Tricks had been acquired by the cloud provider DigitalOcean. For those in the frontend space CSS-Tricks is a tremendously important resource. CSS-Tricks is often the first site that appears when Googling arcane CSS questions. It features a definitive almanac of CSS selectors and properties. The blog contains articles covering the newest developments in frontend. In fact, while I only dabble in web development these days, I still have the Complete Guide to Flexbox article bookmarked on my browser.

Considering its importance to practitioners, it is no wonder that Chris Coyier, the founder of CSS-Tricks and all-around excellent person, cites DigitalOcean’s Community site in the press release. For DigitalOcean’s part, acquiring CSS-Tricks as part of their “commitment to community” makes sense. Although the fit between a frontend resource and cloud provider may seem strange, DigitalOcean has a history of acquiring software engineering sites intended to support the community, purchasing the technical web development site Scotch.io in 2019. DigitalOcean, which boasts phenomenal technical documentation for their own products, has doubled down on practitioner-focused media. Moreover, DigitalOcean launched a PaaS at the end of 2020, and their messaging emphasizes their product’s advantages for mobile, web dev, and static sites.

DigitalOcean is part of a larger trend among technology companies of purchasing established media services (in 2017 Stripe purchased Indie Hackers, in 2019 Robinhood purchased MarketSnacks, and in 2021 Hubspot purchased The Hustle). At RedMonk we have argued that the future of tech events is media, while Balaji Srinivasan, former CTO of Coinbase and General Partner at Andreessen Horowitz, goes so far at to recommend adding an influencer to SaaS software teams in order to “Bundle their content for free with your software subscription” (thanks to Peter Cooper on Hacker News for pointing me to these examples).

While CSS-Tricks may not be strictly a media company, it generates a lot of developer-focused content. Resources like CSS-Tricks and Stack Overflow are absolutely indispensable to the practitioner’s day-to-day workflow. SaaS (PaaS, IMaaS, etcetera) companies need excellent content marketing to attract customers.

Platforms for sharing educational content, information, and expertise form the spiritual backbone of the internet, but they do have a price tag.

Disclosure I have done paid content for CSS-Tricks in the past, but have no existing relationship with the site now.

One comment

  1. Worth noting that the sale of Scotch was seen largely as a failure. In the 3 years since the acquisition, DigitalOcean failed to establish itself as the “trendy” developer community to grab the latest news on JavaScript, CSS, or other front-end topics.

    And, while we don’t know the full details of the purchase – it wouldn’t surprise me if this is their 2nd attempt in trying to establish that same scenario. Would be a shame to see CSS-Tricks being redirected, but as you say – everything has a price.

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