News comes out that Stack Overflow is being bought by something called Prosus. I’ve never heard of them, but they’re ‘a global consumer internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world,’ to quote their own site.

This doesn’t bode well. Stack Overflow is without doubt the most useful site in the world, at least as far as programming and other technical matters goes. And its sub-sites cover a vast range of interests beyond the technical: use of English for both beginners and experienced people, for example; or science fiction; parenting, martial arts, the great outdoors, and a hundred more.

When a big company buys up a small one, it rarely ends well for the users of the small company’s products or services, or so it seems to me. Yahoo bought Flickr and let it largely wither on the vine.1 Similarly with Google has bought numerous properties and either rolled them into its own products, or abandoned them.

In this case the purchaser is not a technology company itself, but just a holding company. Those ones tend to result in the bought company coming under pressure to make more money. The buyer wants to recover its investment. That tends to end up with the the bought company either selling intrusive advertising space, or selling its customers' data.

It doesn’t have to go that way. Maybe this Prosus will be different. But I can’t help thinking it’s a sad day for mutual help on the web.

  1. It’s much better again now that it’s owned by SmugMug. ↩︎