Software developers aren't always known as the most social of creatures, but the venture capital firm of Andreessen Horowitz is betting big that the social networking craze will be a cash cow even among hardcore geeks.
The firm, which was cofounded by Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame, has sunk $100m into GitHub, the online collaboration site for programmers that investors hope will become the Facebook of the coding set.
"By orienting around people rather than repositories, GitHub has become the de facto social network for programmers," Andreessen Horowitz's Peter Levine wrote in a blog post announcing the investment.
Not only is this the most cash Andreessen Horowitz has shelled out to a single company so far, but it's also the first time GitHub has accepted any outside investment.
According to a blog post by its cofounder and CTO Tom Preston-Werner, GitHub "has been profitable for years, is growing fast, and doesn't need money" – but it accepted Andreessen Horowitz's offer anyway. We all make sacrifices.
To the uninitiated, GitHub doesn't look like much of a party. There are no games to play, no streaming video, and no LOLcats. First and foremost, it's a tool for software developers, and it's currently home to more than three million software projects.
At its heart is Git, a source code–management system originally created by Linus Torvalds to help him maintain the Linux kernel. Git and similar tools help developers manage complex software projects by storing, organizing, and providing version control for the source code files that make up a program.
Using the Git client, a programmer can check out a copy of the latest version of a project from a central repository, modify it, then merge any changes back into the main branch, all without disturbing the efforts of other programmers who might be working on the same files.
Git is open source software, so it's free for anyone to install. What GitHub provides is a large-scale, hosted Git server, where anyone can store their code and make it available to other developers worldwide.
GitHub hosts open source software projects for free, provided the code is accessible to everyone. Customers who want to keep their code private pay a monthly fee, starting at $7 per month and scaling upward based on how many private code repositories they need.
But what Levine and Andreessen Horowitz think will really drive GitHub's growth are the social tools the company has added on top of the core Git platform.
In addition to code repositories, GitHub allows developers to create personal profiles and post "activity streams" showing what projects they are currently working on. Other tools allow project managers to organize developers into teams, publish Wikis, and conduct code reviews.
Facebook still sounds a lot more entertaining – and, for that matter, so does MySpace – but Andreessen Horowitz is betting that GitHub will become an increasingly prominent presence in the software-development scene, particularly among coders hoping to land their next gigs.
"If you need to hire great programmers, why look at resumes when you can view a candidate's actual work on GitHub?" Levine writes.
No word yet on exactly what GitHub plans to do with all its newfound loot, but it's a safe bet it plans to grow its staff. It announced six new hires on Monday.
It also plans to expand into the mobile realm, having just released a GitHub app for Android.
And as successful as GitHub has been so far, there's always room for improvement.
"I love software development, but I hate source control," grumbled software developer Jeff Atwood in a Twitter post following the investment announcement. "Necessary and important evil, but un-fun to the extreme. Even GitHub." ®