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An Open Fitness Platform

I’ve kind of hinted at it before but my goal is for Activate Your Glutes to be an open platform by which I mean:

1. Your data is yours.

2. Your data can be consumed and updated both through the web interface provided by Activate Your Glutes and through services that allow any developer to, for example, write an iPhone application that interacts with the site and your data (assuming you allow access). Or a WordPress plug in that lets you show your fitness stats on your blog. The possibilities are endless.

3. Something you can host yourself.

Which is all well and good but is an open platform truly an open platform if it follows a closed source model, if its proprietary?

I don’t believe so.

But to release the source code really requires me to focus on what I want to get personally from investing my free time in this project. There has to be a return on my investment after all. Having done some head scratching I would prioritise my own payback as follows:

1. I’m not happy with the other fitness tracking sites out there. I’ve not managed to find one that meets all my needs well so first and foremost I get a website that I want to use and can tailor as I see fit.

2. Much of my professional work for the past 15 years has taken place in a single vertical market – at least 10 of those years off and on. By working on Activate Your Glutes I get to tackle some new and fresh challenges.

3. I get to develop the code 100% according to the standards and ethics I believe are appropriate for software development. The only timescale pressure’s are those I impose on myself. The features I add to the site are those that are useful and I think will be fun to work on. In short I’m free of commercial concerns. For someone who at heart is a coder thats liberating.

4. There’s the possibility that the site eventually takes off in a big way and I can become my own boss full time working on a product that is worthwhile and is related to something I love (wprking out).

Does making the code open source preclude any of that? No I don’t think so. You could argue that if the code is open source then its harder to make money from which could make it harder to make money from the site and therefore become my own boss but do the majority of the people who would be interested in using Activate My Glutes care about the fact they have the source code? No. What they care about is having a site and service that works and works well. There’s always the possibility that someone else takes the source code and does a better job of hosting it but if they do then good on them and there’s nothing stopping me charging for support or even switching to using there hosted offering.

On the other hand making the code open source opens up some interesting possibilities:

1. Other people may choose to contribute and that would accelerate development and introduce peer review. Those people may also bring skills I don’t have – for example my design skills are extremely limited.

2. Having the source code out in the open for a well developed running website is, frankly, a very useful thing to have on a CV. Currently nearly all the source I’ve worked on in the last 15 years is closed source (except CocoaTrek which is just something I used to learn Objective-C and Cocoa development on the Mac and is not something I consider to be a good codebase – I made many mistakes made while learning the frameworks and language but it served its purpose).

3. Having access to the source would, I believe, increase the likelihood of other developers working on peripheral applications like the iPhone application I mentioned earlier. If you’ve got the source code then you’re not dependant on the original author continuing to host the project – if the site shuts down you can simply host a new site and point your application at that. You’re not developing something that is wholly dependant on a opaque organisation.

4. Other developers looking to use and learn the same technologies I’ve used to develop Activate Your Glutes would have a working example they can look at. This gets an element of peer review into the source code (something that right now that is lacking) and, I would hope, will bring me into contact with a wider number of developers in the community.

So having thought this through I will be releasing the code as Open Source in the next few weeks. I don’t see this as “charity” but simply the benefits outweighing the negatives and it furthering my goal to have an open fitness platform.

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