Gatsby Faces Community Upheaval Over Commercialization Plans

Gatsby Faces Community Upheaval Over Commercialization Plans

A move to consolidate GatsbyJS' commercial and open source operations has caused upheavel in the community that supports this JavaScript framework.

Open source communities certainly have their ups — distributed tech and teams, more eyes on code, faster feedback loops — and downs — less diversity, the controversy of mostly unpaid work. And then there are just facts. Open source communities are inherently more public. That means they sink or swim faster. And word of happy and unhappy contributors and staff echoes throughout cyberland.

GatsbyJS is a React-based open source JAMstack framework that was founded over five years ago. In 2018, the core contributors also started Gatsby, Inc. which serves a commercial audience. With another $28 million in Series B last May, this scale-up has helped build tens of thousands of static websites. It’s also had a rough August.

Recently, Gatsby, Inc. has been weathering a public relations crisis, one that shows the importance of authentic communication, inclusion and responsiveness from leadership to all players in widely distributed open source communities.

Gatsby Fuses Its Commercial and Open Source Initiatives

On August 12, Gatsby announced its completion of GatsbyJS.com. Unlike many mature open source projects which you see splitting from their commercial arms, this makes the unusual move to house both the commercial and open source projects on one website.

As Chief Revenue Officer Ashley Smith wrote: “We built this unified site to bring the open source Gatsby (.org) and the Gatsby, Inc. (.com) sites together in a single domain. Now, all users are set up for success through one consolidated resource — no matter if using open-source Gatsby to create their sites, or Gatsby Cloud to build and deploy them.”

The company did this because users who were both contributors and customers would be splitting between two domains and sometimes duplicating their work, from get started through deployment, Smith wrote.

Nonetheless, this change was met with immediate backlash, fear of the corporatization of the open source project and frustration about certain changes including gatsby-image and a lack of speed.

CEO and co-founder Kyle Mathews told The New Stack, in an email, that as the founder of both the open source project and the commercial entity, while he collaborates with teammates and contributors, he is ultimately responsible for both project roadmaps.

Mathews wrote that managing the parallel projects “was time-consuming, overly complicated, and unsustainable. Maintaining two websites is a lot of work, and GitHub organizations aren’t really meant to include 4,000 people.”

In the end, this unusual choice of combining this widely spread open source community with the for-profit business isn’t what truly raised eyebrows last week. It’s more that this decision is indicative of surfacing concerns about the Gatsby speed, company culture and leadership.

Is Gatsby Really ‘Fast in every way that matters’?

As Gatsby announced the unified website, a former contracted employee spoke up about her experience with the organization. Nat Alison started setting up the internationalization of Gatsby documentation, including recruitment and coordination of volunteer translators, in August 2019. Her contract was canceled ten months later with none of these changes implemented.

Alison wrote in an Aug. 12 Twitter thread as an amalgamation of what she says was both her experience and anonymized versions of some past and present full-time Gatsby employees, who signed non-disclosure agreements.

First Alison writes about her onboarding like a full-time team member and then about her struggles with the slowness of Gatsby, claiming 30-minute builds and that “it would often take up to a week to get the necessary [pull requests] to merge a change.”

She goes on to discuss how she reached out to colleagues to help her increase speed and looked for workarounds within her purview. The promise was that it’d get better once the Gatsby Cloud infrastructure was released. There’s no indication that it did.

Gatsby’s marketing is distinctly around speed, claiming: “Fast in every way that matters.”

In our email interview, Mathews replied that “Build times are proportional to site size and specific features that are used. Some very large or image-heavy sites can take that long.”

He continued that the Gatsby benchmarking tool shows “many sites” consistently build in less than ten seconds.

When asked if it’s true that the open source version of Gatsby runs significantly slower than the commercial version, Mathews attempted to clarify:

“There is no ‘commercial’ version of Gatsby. Gatsby Cloud runs the same version of Gatsby as the dozens of other cloud services people use to run Gatsby. We differentiate ourselves by customizing our cloud service, based on our deep knowledge of Gatsby, so it runs incredibly fast.

“Speed is everything and we work closely with the many users of Gatsby to consistently improve its speed in every dimension which benefits all users of Gatsby whether on Gatsby Cloud or elsewhere.”

While speed is an obvious concern for developers, the real attention last week was given to Alison’s accusations of a toxic culture, claiming “worker mistreatment, incompetent leadership, and hypocrisy regarding diversity and inclusion.”

culture development open source feature gatsby

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