It used to be that GitHub vs. BitBucket was a no-brainer. GitHub was sleek, featureful, popular, and supported git, the godsend.
BitBucket was clunky, buggy, comparatively little-known, and required you to use that hg thing with the annoying workflow.
However, as time has gone on and Atlassian has continued to work on BitBucket, things seem to be shifting in BitBucket’s favor. BitBucket has added support for git, offers private repositories in their free tier, and continues to make minor improvements every now and then, while GitHub seems to be backsliding.
Oh, GitHub still looks nicer by a mile and continues to improve on that front, but what you can do with it and how you communicate are backsliding (and communication is the whole point of the thing). For example, in recent months, GitHub has:
Killed off the private messaging system
GitHub claims that, by killing off their private messaging system, they’re serving us better by giving us one less inbox to manage… yet I still obsessively go into GitHub every few days to flush out the pointless “GitHub Pages built successfully” messages and duplicates of bug notifications that pile up in the “notifications” inbox.
(And the only button that applies to everything is “mark as read”, so I manually have to click every single entry to delete them… including a page reload after every ten clicks.)
Couldn’t they just have ditched both web inboxes, kept the PM form, and forwarded all messages directly to my primary e-mail address for handling?
Forcing me to expose my e-mail address to the world if I want to be reachable and forcing me to abuse the issue tracker to communicate with like-minded individuals is so bass-ackwards that it makes SourceForge seem superior!
Update: GitHub now supports only receiving notifications via e-mail, but they still haven’t provided a replacement for the PM form’s old status as a spam-proof, guaranteed-to-be-there way to contact another user.
Started requiring that
user.email actually be an e-mail
At first glance, this may seem reasonable… except that git itself doesn’t enforce that constraint and git is famous for not letting you rewrite old commits without breaking push/pull with everyone else’s branches.
What makes it even worse is that, since GitHub used to support it, who knows how much data was submitted which once was valid and now isn’t. Smart move, guys.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather give up having my commits hyperlinked to my account (or, even better, just switch to BitBucket, which still allows arbitrary strings) than leave a genuine e-mail address lying around where every spambot in the world can find it.
I’ll be sticking with
http://www.ssokolow.com/ContactMe as my commit ID’s “e-mail address”, thank you very much.
Replaced their blog comments with Twitter
As Christian Heilmann elaborated on, Twitter is not a discussion platform because its character limit kills nuance in discussion, it has no threading, and its structure makes it nearly impossible for anyone but the author of the blog post to gauge community reaction.
If I find news sites without comment systems unsatisfying and/or distasteful enough to avoid them, I’m not going to be very enthused about a “Web 2.0″ code-hosting site that does the same with their public announcements. I don’t care whether it’s spin-doctoring or just laziness. (Again, if I wanted the latter, SourceForge has it in spades)
So, these days, what exactly does BitBucket do wrong, aside from losing the network effects battle?
Surprisingly little from what I’ve been able to tell… they just made some bad choices in what they did wrong:
No GitHub Pages Competitor
I’m told BitBucket has support for a per-user Pages equivalent, but that’s not really a big help (It took me ages to find a use for GitHub’s per-user Pages support but I was using per-project pages from day 1) and it’s so under-documented that, despite looking for it, I spent months not knowing it existed. (BitBucket’s opportunity to be worse than SourceForge)
If I’m going to have to pay for site hosting anyway, I might as well just host my own git repository and bug tracker while I’m at it and gain more customization support.
Poor First Impression for Project Pages
With no equivalent to GitHub Pages, the full burden of making a good first impression falls to the project pages. Unfortunately, they are also in need of some TLC.
First, they still knock-off GitHub’s old theme, which now feels five years out of date. Not a good first impression to make when the projects you compete against for attention are probably hosted on GitHub.
Second, the default configuration for a project’s landing page shows off their most recent commits and their README file. The problem is, in my experience, there are three pieces of information, from most to least urgent, that I want to know when I visit a project’s landing page:
- What it’s about. (GitHub and BitBucket both get this right by showing the README.)
- What the license is. (Neither GitHub nor BitBucket support this explicitly, but GitHub’s overview page makes it trivial to see and click on the COPYING or LICENSE file.)
- What language the project is written in. (Same situation as the previous point.)
- How actively developed the project is. (GitHub didn’t used to show the most recent few commits on their overview page, but if the first three are satisfied well, then I have no problem with one click to check the commit log.)
Yes, you can configure your BitBucket repository to show the tree browser as the default, but then it doesn’t display the README, which is even worse.
So where does this leave us?
For now, I’ll continue to use GitHub… maybe with a public e-mail like use.the.mail.form at ssokolow.com which I can make valid only long enough for GitHub to accept it.
However, they’re on very thin ice and, hopefully, BitBucket will wake up, seize this opportunity, and give GitHub enough competition to restore progressive (rather than regressive) innovation to code-hosting sites.
(Seriously, Google Code? You thought it was helpful to remove the project activity overview when the majority of projects on established sites are dormant and possibly buggy?)
Update: While our needs differ on things like the importance of a valid e-mail address, Linus Torvalds also makes good points on GitHub’s shortcomings. Not sure how BitBucket compares though. Probably equally poorly. (A little something that came to my attention via Planet Mozilla)