GitHub alienates developers by force feeding them AI recommendations

Decision to combine user-curated feed with algorithmic stuff leaves coders fuming

A week ago, GitHub fused its home page feed with algorithmic recommendations, infuriating more than a few users of the Microsoft-owned code-hosting giant.

On Tuesday, GitHub responded to the hostile feedback by stating that some of the questioned behavior was actually due to bugs that have now been fixed, even as it doubled down on its decision to combine the previously separate "Following" and "For You" feeds.

The "Following" feed included "activity by people you follow and from repositories you watch." It was the result of deliberate user choice: developers selected the code and contributors they were interested in.


It's time to reveal all recommendation algorithms – by law if necessary


The "For You" feed included "activity and recommendations based on your GitHub network." It was the result of GitHub's social algorithm and user behavior data.

As of last week, GitHub combined the two to lighten the burden on its servers, or so the company claimed.

"When we launched the latest version of your feed on September 6, 2023, we made changes to the underlying technology of the feed in order to improve overall platform performance," the biz explained in a post on Tuesday.

"As a result, we removed the functionality for 'push events for repositories a user is subscribed to'. We don’t take these changes lightly, but as our community continues to grow tremendously, we have to prioritize our availability, user experience, and performance."

Had GitHub personnel been paying attention to the blow back at Twitter last year – the social network reversed its decision to make its algorithmic "Home" timeline the default at the expense of those who preferred its chronologically ordered "Latest Tweets" – they might have spared themselves the scorn.

It's as if no one at GitHub recalls the objections that arose when the corporation was beta testing feed changes last year. Or perhaps GitHub just doesn't care how much some users detest algorithmic recommendation systems and unilateral design changes.

Screenshot of new GitHub feed

A screenshot of the new GitHub feed ... Click to enlarge

Bram Borggreve, founder of Colombia-based dev shop BeeSoft Labs, offered one of the more polite objections to the unrequested feed change among the almost two hundred people who commented, not to mention those participating in adjacent discussion threads who asked for a reversal:

Please, GitHub, listen to the feedback of the users and keep the option to have a chronological timeline like we had until yesterday.

You tried the same about 10 months ago and the experiment failed, and yesterday it happened all over again.

The chronological feed works great for a lot of people, it helps discover new repos and people to follow, and it motivates working on things because you can see who starred your repo. And best of all, because it's chronological, you know when you are caught up reading because you recognize what you already saw before.

Having the algorithmic option on the side doesn't hurt, and it might be the preference of some people, but please, pretty please with cherry on top, just leave the option that's been there for years and works great.

Not everything has to become like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. We are here to get work done, not engage with whatever your algorithm thinks we like.

An engineer at an IT infrastructure management software developer, who wished to remain anonymous as he is not authorized to speak to the media, told The Register in an email, "GitHub tried this before, and their users said no. They are taking away a useful feature and replacing it with social media algorithm garbage. It's like they forgot that people use their platform to do actual work, and not just doom scroll issues, pull requests, and new JavaScript frameworks."

They are taking away a useful feature and replacing it with social media algorithm garbage

GitHub declined to comment to El Reg beyond its posted remarks, which acknowledged that perhaps some disagreed with its decision while refusing to reconsider.

"We understand that many of you are upset with the recent changes to your feed," the company stated. "We should have done a better job communicating recent changes and how those decisions relate to our broader platform goals. Your continued feedback is invaluable as we evolve and continue to strive to provide a first-class developer experience that helps every developer be happier and more productive."

The Register also asked GitHub to provide data to support its claim that the old feed format hindered performance. We don't expect an answer.

For the time being, devs who prefer the old feed can install a workaround user-script or visit a GitHub page that still offers the old format. Or they can look for other code hosting options. ®

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