Official Blog of Shaun Walker


XXL Fork

By Shaun Walker on 2/26/2015
( Excerpt from Professional DNN7 Open Source .NET CMS Platform - WROX Press - April 2015 - ISBN: 978-1-118-85084-8 )

Early in the project history, I was approached by an individual from Germany with a request to maintain a localized DotNetNuke site for the German community. I was certainly not naïve to the risks of another source code distribution at this point, and I told him that it would be fine so long as the site stayed consistent with the official source code base, which was under my jurisdiction. This was agreed upon, and in the coming months I had periodic communication with this individual regarding his localization efforts. However, as time wore on he became critical of the manner in which the project was being managed, in particular the sole maintainer aspect, and began to voice his disapproval in the public forum. He was able to convince a number of community members to collaborate with him on a modified version of DotNetNuke, a version that integrated a number of the more popular community enhancements available, and called it DotNetNuke XXL.

Now I have to admit that much of this occurred due to my own inability to respond quickly and form a Core Team. In addition, I was not providing adequate feedback to the community regarding my goals and objectives for the future of the project. The reality is that the background management tasks of creating the DotNetNuke Core Team and managing the myriad other issues had undermined my ability to deliver source code enhancements and support to the community. The combination of these factors resulted in an unpleasant situation, one that I should have mitigated sooner but was afraid to act upon due to the fragility of the newly formed community. And you also need to remember that the creator of the XXL variant had broken no license agreement by creating a “fork” (a distribution) — it was completely legal based on the freedom of the MIT open source license.

Eventually the issue came to a head when members of the XXL group began promoting their full-source-code hybrid in the DotNetNuke Forum. Essentially piggybacking on the primary promotion channel for the DotNetNuke project, they were able to convince many people to switch to the XXL code base. This had some bad consequences for the DotNetNuke community. Mainly it threatened to splinter the emerging community on territorial boundaries — an event I wanted to avoid at all costs. This situation was the closest attempt of project hijacking that I can realistically imagine. The DotNetNuke XXL fork seemed to be fixated on becoming the official version of DotNetNuke and assuming control of the future project roadmap. The only saving grace was that I personally managed the DotNetNuke infrastructure and therefore had some influence over key aspects of the open source environment.

In searching for an effective mechanism to protect the integrity of the community and prevent the XXL fork from gaining momentum, some basic business fundamentals came into play. Any product or service is only as successful as its primary communications channel. The DotNetNuke Forum on the www.asp.net website was the primary communication hub to the DotNetNuke community. Therefore, it was not difficult to realize that restricting discussion about XXL in the forum was the simplest method to mitigate its growth. So I introduced some bold changes to the DotNetNuke project. 

I established some guidelines for Core Team conduct that included, among other things, restrictions on promoting competing open source distributions of the DotNetNuke application. I also posted some policies on the DotNetNuke Forum that emphasized that the forum was dedicated solely to the discussion of the official DotNetNuke application and that discussion of third-party commercial or open source products was strictly forbidden. This was an especially difficult decision to make from a moral standpoint as I was well aware that the DotNetNuke application had been introduced to the community via the IBuySpy Portal Forum. Nonetheless, the combination of these two announcements resulted in both the resignation of the XXL project leader from the Core Team as well as the end of discussion of the XXL fork in the DotNetNuke Forum. It is important to note that such a defensive move would not have been possible without the loyalty and support of the rest of the Core Team in terms of enforcing the guidelines.

The unfortunate side effect, one about which I had been cautioning members of the community for weeks, was that users who had upgraded to the XXL fork were effectively left on an evolutionary dead end — a product version with no support mechanism or promise of future upgrades. This is because many of the XXL enhancements were never going to be integrated into the official DotNetNuke code base (either due to design limitations or inapplicability to the general public). And once this became known, most of the developers of the XXL distribution lost interest in maintaining its code base. This situation, as unpleasant as it may have been for those caught on the dead-end side of the equation, was a real educational experience for the community in general as they began to understand the longer-term and deeper implications of open source project philosophy. In general, the community feedback was positive to the project changes, with only occasional flare-ups in the weeks following. In addition, the Core Team seemed to gel more as a result of these decisions because it provided some much-needed policies on conduct, loyalty, and dedication as well as a concrete example of how inappropriate behavior would be penalized.

Emerging from the XXL dilemma, I realized that I needed to establish some legal protection for the long-term preservation of the project. Because standard copyright and the MIT license offered no real insurance from third-party threats, I began to explore intellectual property law in greater detail. After much research and legal advice, I decided that the best option was to apply for a trademark for the DotNetNuke name. Registering a trademark protects a project's name or logo, which is often a project's most valuable asset. After the trademark was approved it would mean that although an individual or company could still create a fork of the application, they legally could not refer to it by the DotNetNuke name. This appeared to be an important distinction so I proceeded with trademark registration.

I must admit the entire trademark approval process was quite an educational experience. Before you can register your trademark, you need to define a category and description of your wares and/or services. This can be challenging, although most trademark agencies now provide public access to their database where you can browse for similar items that have been approved in the past. You pay your processing fee when you submit the initial application, but the trademark agency has the right to reject your application for any number of reasons whereby you need to modify your application and submit it again. Each iteration can take a couple of months, so patience is indeed a requirement. After the trademark is accepted, it must be published in a public trademark journal for a specified amount of time, providing third parties the opportunity to contest the trademark before it is approved. If it makes it through this final stage, you can pay your registration fee for the trademark to become official. To emphasize the lengthy process involved, the DotNetNuke trademark was initially submitted on October 9, 2003, and was finally approved on November 15, 2004.

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Shaun Walker has 25+ years professional experience in architecting and implementing enterprise software solutions for private and public organizations. Shaun is the original creator of DotNetNuke, a Web Application Framework which is one of the pioneering open source software applications native to the Microsoft platform. He was one of the original founders of DNN Corp, a commercial software company providing products, services, and technical support for DotNetNuke, which raised 3 rounds of venture capital from top tier Silicon Valley investors. Based on his significant community contributions he has been recognized as a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) as well as an ASPInsider for over 10 consecutive years. He was recognized by Business In Vancouver as a leading entrepreneur in their Forty Under 40 business awards, was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Outercurve Foundation, and is currently the Chairman of the Advisory Council for Microsoft's .NET Foundation. Shaun is currently a Partner and CTO at Arrow Digital.

Shaun Walker
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 DNN is the most widely deployed open source .NET web content management platform that allows you to design, build, and manage feature-rich websites, web applications, and social communities.

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