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Python autocomplete-in-the-cloud tool Kite pushes into projects, gets stabbed with a fork

Cloud dev biz tries rainmaking, stirs up storm of complaints

The Minimap Affair

In April, Néhémie added a Kite promotion to Minimap. The update added links to Kite's website from Minimap, as a supposed service to users. Some Minimap users appreciated the change; many others, however, did not and a contentious discussion ensued.

One of Kite's engineers, Juan Lozano, attempted to reassure Minimap users that the company's addition didn't upload any data, but dismissed requests to disable or remove the promotional links. "We have decided to leave the feature as opt-out since many users have found it useful," he said.

Lee Dohm, community manager for Atom, weighed in. He acknowledged that ads in Atom are undesirable. But he also suggested that Kite's links fail to meet his definition of advertising. "[T]he Kite functionality doesn't seem to have a sole purpose of getting one to buy something and does seem to provide benefit to some potential viewers even if it doesn't provide any benefit to others," he said.

After it was pointed out that the links were explicitly referred to as promotions in commit messages, developer Ryan Leckey earlier this month decided to fork the code, creating a version of Minimap without Kite.

Last week, Néhémie weighed in to apologize and say that Kite has decided to undo the unwelcome changes. "The next release will no longer show anything," he said, "I'll also make sure that the relation between Kite and the Minimap package are as clear as possible."

In an email to The Register, Dave Halter, who maintains the Jedi autocompletion engine, said that those affiliated with Kite don't deserve the ire being directed at them. "I have talked to them and they seem to be decent guys," he said. "They just don't understand that code in the cloud is something very problematic."

With regard to the autocomplete-python controversy, Halter said Kite's developers never should have added that option. "It could have been a hidden setting where users had the option to choose Kite," he said. "This hurt them big time and I think it's not entirely undeserved. There were a lot of people complaining for a long time and they didn't do anything about it. It's clear that the selection menu is a 'dark pattern' and doesn't really represent actual facts. I'm pretty sure Jedi is still better, [having been] around for a longer time."

Halter said the biggest problem for open source software projects is that most depend on volunteers who are not well compensated for their work. He estimated he's spent about two and half years working on Jedi.

"There's always the danger of companies reaching out and the developers cashing in," he said. "However, the bright side is that due to an active community such things can be fixed. We can fork projects."

Paul Berg, an open-source licensing expert who has worked at Amazon and advises Idaho National Laboratory, said forks happen, but once projects get large enough, there's pressure for unification.

"Once a project is large enough to have significant IP value to be a successful commercial enterprise, there are enough players in the field that taking it in a more proprietary direction means you are running the risk of splitting your development talent pool via a fork," he said in an email to The Register. "That causes your dev costs to skyrocket and the community-driven project can often outpace the more commercial one."

Berg added, "The exceptions tend to be when there is a huge amount of money at stake and they want to steer in their own direction (Bitcoin) or when a feature is needed badly for some imminent commercial purpose but the open-source software project doesn't want to take the feature for some reason."

Sebastian on Monday asked the maintainer of autocomplete-python whether he intends to revert the changes, and suggested failure to do so would lead to a code fork. ®

Updated to add

Since this story was published, autocomplete-python has been forked.

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