Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Do you contribute to open source projects with your real name?
36 points by chesney on Aug 16, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 27 comments
What are the pros/cons of real name/pseudonymous/anonymous contributions?

Obviously there are lots of implications like privacy, taking credit, taking responsibility, claiming code, claiming copyrights,...

There was a similar discussion on Slashdot some time ago: http://yro.slashdot.org/story/08/11/17/1746239/Real-Name-For-Open-Source-Development

But that's Slashdot, this is Hackernews. What's your take?

I do.

If you have to sign a copyright assignment statement, I'd think you'd be required to by the project (such as for GNU projects). But even if you don't assign your copyright to the project, I have a hard time understanding what using a pseudonym would do for you.

If your employer owns anything you create (like most businesses in the USA), then even if you submit under a pseudonym, once the employer finds out what name(s) you're using, they still own the copyright. You just make it harder and more annoying for them to find out that it's you.

I can understand if you're just writing a single bug report or sending a one-off email to a mailing list asking a question, sure, using a pseudonym is probably fine if you're worried about spam. But if you're actually contributing to the project (code, documentation, specs, marketing, etc), using your real name is the only way to go.

Also, if you put on your resume that you contribute to an open source project, I'd go check that out. If I can't find your name anywhere, I'm going to assume you're stretching the truth on your resume, probably in other places too.

  If your employer owns anything you create (like most businesses in the USA)
I'm not from the US, so excuse me if I ask you: What the hell?

Is this really true? Anything? Or just things related to your job? The former would be - lacking any better word for it - ridiculous.

There are limitations but frankly the line isn't clear as I would like it to be. My last job said anything I create using the tools provided to my (my laptop) could be subject to their ownership. My newest company goes a step further and says anything I create in my spare time becomes theirs. Their actual statement was, "Let's say you create the next facebook. Then that's our property." Of course after explaining to them that I was "helping" a friend build a specific web site they said that wouldn't be included as it is in another business sector than they function in. The odd thing is that facebook is not in their sector either. So again, my main complaint is that the line isn't as clear as I'd like it to be for my tastes.

In the US employers put a bunch of crap about how they own everything you do in their employment contract, but so far as I know they lack teeth. Mostly it is anything they may have contributed to, so company time, company materials, company information, etc. Where I work they have boiled it down to don't compete with us, don't do business with us, and don't use our stuff for your business.

In California and Illinois it may not necessarily be true due to laws those states have passed, but in most other states, it generally is. I live in New York state.

My contract states: "I will promptly notify <employer> of all inventions, discoveries, computer programs and systems, works of authorship, improvements, and developments, which I may produce during my employment with <employer>, and I assign my right, title, and interest to <employer> in such inventions, discoveries, computer programs and systems, works of authorship, improvements and developments."

There's other paragraphs roughly stating that if I notify upper management of my work done outside of business the company engages in or plans to engage in, upper management may provide me a written exemption for those specific works. But they do _NOT_ have to provide this to me, even if I ask nicely. I personally do not know anyone at my company who has ever gotten an exemption.

This is not true universally, regardless of what contracts you sign.

For instance, in California you have section 2870 of the Labor Code: Any provision in an employment agreement which provides that an employee shall assign, or offer to assign, any of his or her rights in an invention to his or her employer shall not apply to an invention that the employee developed entirely on his or her own time without using the employer's equipment, supplies, facilities, or trade secret information...


To be clear, this is what happens when you choose to sign an agreement that assigns all your inventions to your employer. It's not the default, and it can be worked around with little fanfare. If you're working on projects that are closely related to your employer's business, they want to own it. Otherwise, even big companies can be surprisingly lenient. But, yes, they typically ask for everything. It's just simpler (for them).

Big corporations are a lot more likely to do this. Smaller companies and startups (like where I am right now) are much more likely to just open source stuff that isn't core business logic.

A copyright assignment doesn't need to be public.

An employer might not own anything we create in our free time, or there might not be an employer at all.

And if I put that I worked on a project under a pen name on a resume then I would include the name I worked under, accepting that it is probably not that anonymous anymore.

As a personal preference, I like to keep various site's pseudonyms separate from my real life identity, inasmuch as is possible. I prefer to let each identity gain or lose recognition in a vacuum, as it were, with no simple way to simply google a username and get my full bio.

My take on it is that it's a lot easier to link them up as you need to, than it is to unlink them.

Yes. After Dejanews resurrected ancient Usenet postings, I stopped using my real name online for most things. But my flaw was using a single pseudonym almost everywhere. So now my insightful Slashdot comments (that was years ago) are by the same userid that posts stupid photoshops on Fark. I can't "claim" my existing identity on one site without claiming all of them. So a few years ago I moved to site-specific ("unlinked") IDs. If I someday wanted to stick my real name on my HN profile, it would be easy and it isn't linked to other sites. I've also gone to indistinct userids (ja27) that are almost impossible to Google. (Just as I say that, I see that my HN profile is now the top result for my id. Nothing else appears though.)

But back to the original question. I rarely contribute to open source, mostly due to time issues, but when I do it's always as a pseudonym. My current company may be ok with some open source project contributions but having been acquired twice in 5 years (and always considering changing companies) I don't want to take the chance that a new boss would change that. I also wouldn't want to make it easy for a patent dispute to spill over between my paid closed source work and open source.

Like you, I have switched to using different user names for every site for which I register, and I've done so for the same reasons. However, I've taken things a step further by choosing user names that I find on other sites. If someone googles for the user name, results at many sites might come up but that doesn't mean we are the same people.

What if you decide to retroactively claim code you wrote in the past. How would you link your pseudonyms to your real name?

If it's linked with something you still control, like a github account or website, you could "out" yourself there.

How does this affect the consumer of open source? People are going to take notice if Linus releases a version control system for example, versus hipsterluldawg1981's newest thing on GitHub. Contributors are a signal of both quality and longer-term commitment to the project.

An anonymous contributor with a good reputation would also be acceptable in many cases, though it could be a red flag in large companies.

Never occurred to me how many people don't use real name. This must vary a lot by community, because afaict most JavaScript open source seems is real name, or just a well-known psudonym.

In commit messages I use my nick (warp) followed by my e-mail address. The email address is at my own domain, which has my full details (real name, address, phone number) and resume, etc..

Writing code is what I do, and if other coders (or clients/employers) want to contact me based on work of me they've seen, I want that to be easy for them.

However, because my real name and nick is so easily associated with my home address and such, I never use my real name on social network sites. I don't want a technology savvy thief to break into my home because I've been sharing holiday photographs from some remote country and they know I will not be home.

In short: personal life == pseudonyms, professional life == real name.

I do commit using my own name (well: a pseudonym/nickname followed by my real name). I'm proud of what I contribute to open source and have no problem whatsoever with people _knowing_ what I do. Even if there are embarassing commits (such as fixing a terrible bug produced by yourself), it's still ment to be public IHMO.

I do, because it is instantly verifiable to prospective employers who want to see things I've worked on. I don't think there is anything wrong with using a pseudonym in this case, but doing so would make it at least one step more difficult to verify that you actually wrote the code.

Also, it keeps me more honest. If every commit has my real name attached, I am more likely to write clean code since I value my reputation.

I make all of my open source contributions using my real name and email address, and I've been doing so for the past four years. This includes open source work I was getting paid for as well as what I've done on my own free time. It allows me to directly associate my work with my name for purposes of improving my résumé without having to feel the need to "explain" my choice of screen name. I've actually gotten so used to operating under my real name that I feel a bit of regret on hacker news for having used my psuedonym here...

I didn't sign code with my real name for a long while, and it was great, it feels honest. Doing work just to scratch your own itch, and in some cases I am still doing it. For most projects, things like copyright and responsibility is just things that get in the way, we just want things done, and the license will never be enforced in court.

I started signing code when I started going to meetups etc, doing it with people who actually knew me in real life, it started getting pointless to try to hold a cloak of anonymity.

I don't.

I can't really remember my precise reasons why not but I recall having this feeling that it was charity and that I don't go around stating which charities I give money to because I feel that such things reveal some aspect of my beliefs.

I'm probably quite raving about anonymity and the freedom to act without being judged by it by future employers, government and the like.

So I vaguely concluded a long time ago that as software can reflect aspects of political beliefs that such things are best done with anonymity.

These thoughts were a lot clearer a decade ago, now just out of habit I use aliases. No-one ever seems to mind and at some level it feels cool to know that you're not known.

I didn't make the mistake of using 1 alias everywhere, which is just as well as a couple of times I've let slip my identity in IRC chat rooms.

Edit: I remember now... I had a particular gig which required government clearance and during that process realised that everything I ever did was going to be factored into their judgement and in the future it would be too. It was then that I shifted all work that didn't need to be directly attributable to aliases.

I always use my real name, being in my own projects as well as contributing to others'. Cannot imagine a reason not to do so.

I do. I may use different email addresses sometimes in an effort to avoid spam. But if I build something I want to put my name on it. It's been helpful with letting people track me down to get help on things I've stopped work on a long time ago, which then lets me help them get done what they need to get done.

I use my name everywhere I can. Never had the need to not use it :)

After all, my work is me.

Generally just under a single pseudonym that is way too easily linked to my real name. In my head they're almost synonymous on the internet.

I never got into the whole having a fake name or nickname on the internet thing, so I use my real name everywhere. There are a few places I only use my first name, but I'm not known as turbogeek42 or anything like that.

I've never cared much about the cons of using my name. What I say and what I do is what I say and do. I'm not really worried about it.

I do, It depends on your employer. Do you hate reputation? Do you want privacy? Then use a pseudo name

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact