Why OpenHeatMap is banned from Github


Photo by Sinead Fenton

OpenHeatMap is an abject failure commercially, but I’ve kept it running because around 40,000 people a year use it to create simple visualizations. It’s free and aimed at non-technical folks, so a lot of them are from non-profits, schools, local activist groups, and other causes that I enjoy helping.

I spend a few hours a week answering emails, and occasionally have to do some server maintenance, but it’s generally a fairly light labor-of-love. The source code has always been up on Github, but a few months ago it was taken down after a copyright complaint. Unfortunately Github don’t seem to have any process for me to contest this decision, and after a few inconclusive exchanges with their support team supplying further information they’ve stopped replying to my messages.

It’s not really hurting me personally, I’m still able to keep up my maintenance on the project from a local copy, but I’ve had to field puzzled emails from people who want to fork or learn from the project, including one team with an intriguing idea for a suite of visualization tools aimed at non-profits. I don’t like disappointing these folks, so I’m putting this together as an explanation of why I’ve not been able to help them.

The actual complaint isn’t completely nuts, but what has left me sad is how Github handled it. About five years ago somebody emailed me a bug report, attaching a few spreadsheets of addresses and names, without any description of what they were. This is a pretty typical use case for the website, I’ll often see what look like short fragments of a phone book as test files. I fixed the bug and added the file to my unit tests. A few months ago, years after I’d originally created the unit test, I received an email from a CTO at a consulting firm, angry that what appeared to be a list of his staff was available if you dug around enough on Github, though it was unlabeled. It appeared one of his employees had sent it to me as a test case. I felt a bit embarrassed – looking back I’d be more careful about what I used as my unit test inputs, at least scrubbing them more vigorously so that only address data remains (though a lot of the tests are about identifying what is address data in a soup of other columns). I went ahead and removed the offending data from my repository and its history, and checked the result in. I also started the process of removing the unit test directory entirely from the public project, though that was a longer task. Unfortunately the complainant found another copy of the file he hadn’t spotted before, and rather than contacting me, got in touch with Github and persuaded them to disable the project.

I was pretty disappointed, but assumed I could get the project back online with the unit tests removed entirely. Unfortunately they don’t seem to have any kind of process for resolving problems like these, and the only point of contact I’ve had is through their main support@github.com email. I tried reaching out on Twitter too, but without any luck. Right now the project’s stuck in limbo, apparently permanently banned, and I’m not sure how to get it online again. I’m a long-time fan of Github, and there’s no other provider that offers such a good environment for sharing source code, so I’m just sad that they don’t seem set up to handle this sort of problem, and I hope this doesn’t affect other projects going forward.

[Update – I’ve had an email back from Github, it sounds like my previous mails may have gone astray, and they’re on the case.]

[Update 2 – OpenHeatMap is now back online, thanks to everyone for their support!]

33 responses

  1. Pingback: Why OpenHeatMap is banned from Github | Rocketboom

      • Yes, unquestionably, they did.Their employee violated a policy that did not exist or was not enforced at the time. Now, instead of admitting fault and holding the management accountable for it, they are shifting the burden on the volunteer author of a goodwill product. In these conditions the company CTO has no right of expecting privacy any more than a school bully. This is typical greedy behaviour and it merits a permanent public stain on the company’s reputation. In fact, the stain is already there, we simply don’t know which particular limited liability managerial jerk is associated with it.

    • Why? They were being reasonable per the blog post. If nothing else, they were protecting the identies and information of their staff and or clients. Seems reasonable.

      • ‘X’ people attacked our country. Now ever member of ‘X’ people should be killed to solve this issue.
        This only further touches on the idiotic mentality of a good bit of the people on this Earth, but at the same time is a very tiny example of the fact of the matter being that the manner in which they handled the situation is why what they did has people so flustered.

  2. > I’ve had an email back from Github, it sounds like my previous mails may have gone astray, and they’re on the case

    Haha… no. Just face saving.

  3. “[Update – I’ve had an email back from Github, it sounds like my previous mails may have gone astray, and they’re on the case.]”

    Somehow, that’s the cheapest excuse they could use.

    • Or maybe the e-mails were directed to a Github employee who left the company after the initial exchange, and the subsequent e-mails never did get to anybody. It’s certainly a plausible scenario.

    • Companies will ignore you and ignore you until it becomes news. At which point its all a big misunderstanding and they will fix it. Please we don’t believe that anymore than when the USA president says he doesn’t have the NSA tapping all email everywhere, its implausible and suggesting we are idiots.

      This isn’t the first time github has behave in this way, wont be the last.

  4. Sourceforge. It’s only serious repository out there. Do NOT touch google code. They are happy to hand over your project to someone else with a simple support request. Sourceforge has a process and they do their homework.

  5. Pingback: OpenHeatMap is back on Github! « Pete Warden's blog

  6. I’m disappointed in github’s handling of this also. I’m not keeping track so I don’t know how common this is, but it sucks.

    @Dan Howard — any links to share about googlecode handing over a project to someone else? (I’m not a google fanboi or something, but am curious how likely this is and how one can protect one’s project).

    I have a project on both these services (the same one actually; I push to both places).

  7. Pingback: The Ship Show | Because You Watched DevOps, You Might Enjoy Netflix

  8. Pingback: Why OpenHeatMap is banned from Github

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