SourceForge opens eBay-like marketplace

Open-source project hosting site takes cue from Red Hat's Exchange.

SourceForge's open-source, project-hosting Web site now has an eBay-like marketplace, where users can offer support services for sale.

The marketplace is built into SourceForge.net and had been in beta since earlier this year. Initially, the company invited selected projects to create listings, in order to "stock the shelves," said Mike Rudolph, SourceForge.net's vice president.

SourceForge's approach of having users interact directly with customers differs somewhat from that of Red Hat's Exchange, an online marketplace launched earlier this year. Through the site, Red Hat sells commercial open-source business software from a finite range of vendors, as well as related support.

Rudolph said there are slightly fewer than 700 listings on SourceForge's marketplace site right now. But SourceForge.net's sheer size -- it claims about 160,000 projects and 1.7 million registered users -- suggests there could soon be many more.

He expressed doubt that fraud and other concerns associated with online purchasing will afflict the site. "In my experience, online marketplaces tend to police themselves," said Rudolph, a former eBay employee.

It doesn't cost anything to post a listing on the marketplace, Rudolph said. Instead, SourceForge will take a commission on sales.

Rudolph said the commissions work under a tiered system, and average about 10 percent. He characterized the fees as "nominal," given the exposure and platform sellers receive.

"We are all about enabling success for the open-source development community," he said.

However, Rudolph said it's unclear precisely how the economics of open source will evolve.

"My point of view is that things are still relatively nascent," he said, adding that SourceForge is going after the proverbial long tail of the market -- smaller players and startups that may lack assets but drive innovation. "I don't think there's anyone serving the long tail right now but us," Rudolph asserted.

The marketplace represents another phase in SourceForge's evolution. The company, once called VA Software, changed its name earlier this year and said it planned to focus on its Web-based businesses, which also includes the popular tech news site Slashdot.

Rudolph would not say precisely how important the company believes this new venture will be to the bottom line. SourceForge.net initially made its money entirely through advertising.

"This is a long-term strategic play for us," he said. "We've done some staffing up to support this. Ultimately, our hope is that it affects the economics of our business. But we are not forecasting that revenue at the moment."

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