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Let’s Talk Open Source

How The Coral Project benefits from working in the open

A neon sign that reads ‘Open’ Adapted from a photo by Aaron Pruzaniec, CC-BY 2.0

From the very beginning, The Coral Project’s Talk platform has been open source. Now we’re part of Vox Media, we’re committed to keeping Talk open source. As the Head of the Project, I wanted to share a little about what this means, and how it improves our work for everyone.

What is Open Source?
Open source means that we publish the source code of Talk, so you can see every line of code, and it’s also available to download, run, and modify on your site. If you choose to run Talk yourself using the open source code, you can do this without asking for our permission, and we don’t have any access to your community or technology. Our code is published with a license called Apache 2.0. Read a summary of what this means on TLDRLegal.

While the code is openly available, this doesn’t mean that running Talk is cost-free — you still need to pay for the time and costs of integrating with your systems (we can help you with that), pay for your own server, and then pay for tools and time to manage your own database, run your own upgrades and fixes, create your own monitoring tools, build and maintain your own 24/7 support systems, and so on. (Or you can ask us to do all of that for you.)

Why Open Source?
We’ve been committed to open source since the founding of The Coral Project. We benefit in many ways from this. Primarily, it means that community is at the core of our work, not just in what our platform does, but also in how it’s built.

Being open source makes our platform highly flexible. If there’s a feature that you want, and it’s not on our team’s roadmap, you can clone our code and add that feature yourself, working on your own or in collaboration with other members of our community. You can also submit that change back to us, to review and maybe include in the next version of Talk.

We always credit our amazing community on GitHub for every feature they add, and it’s a great way to improve coding skills — instead of doing a theoretical exercise, you can help make online communities safer and better as you learn.

More than 80 people outside of our team have already contributed code, and we maintain a list of fixes and new features you can help us with building. The more, the merrier! Being part of something bigger is a great way to raise developer morale on any team.

Because of the breadth of the community, open source software teams can move quicker, use more cutting-edge technology, and be more flexible in responding to the needs of users. Open source tools are often more secure thanks to the eagle eyes of everyone who can see the code.

We also make it easy for anyone to build their own extensions (currently in the form of ‘plugins’), so that you can build add-on features and integrate your own systems without needing to change the main code. This means newsrooms can adapt and use Talk for their own particular needs, without having to compromise on features. The Washington Post, for example, built their own moderation bot to plug into Talk.

Being open source makes Talk more accessible to newsrooms who have the skills to run the same platform as some of the world’s biggest publishers, but don’t have the resources to have us run it for them. It also increases our global reach — thanks to our being open source, Talk now includes translations into several languages including Danish, Finnish, Montenegrin, and Chinese.

And being open source makes our code better. Knowing that others might build on it encourages us to thoughtfully include comments in our code, improve our error messaging, and to write detailed documentation on how the code works.

By making Talk open source, we are demonstrating transparency and trust at a time when community platforms are mostly closed off, with their code walled away from view. So much of the software we all use is built on open source tools, developed by passionate communities working alongside professional teams, and we’re proud that we get to give back to the developer community with our own contribution.

We feel confident that making Talk open source helps us to create the best community platform out there — one with community at the core of its creation. We hope you’ll join us in improving it as we grow. Because journalism needs everyone.

Interested in contributing? Visit us on GitHub or reach out to talk to us about Talk.