Gitty up: 12 things other than programming code that are managed on GitHub

The popular platform for open source software is increasingly being used to share, manage and crowdsource things other than code

GitHub stickers

GitHub, the web-based platform for hosting software repositories, seems to be taking over the coding world. With over 10 million repositories it’s become the go-to place for hosting, sharing and contributing to open source code projects. Its appeal comes from the fact that it makes it easy to track the history of files changes (via Git), as well as collaborate and crowdsource. It’s also turned into its own social network. But those same attributes are making it a popular choice for non-code projects by both programmers and non-programmers alike. People are now using GitHub to host, share and crowdsource everything from legal documents to church music. Here are a dozen examples of non-programming projects that are being managed via GitHub.

An ancient book opened to a page of Gregorian chants and music
Gregorian chants

Just like programmers like to hack programming code, musicians often like to hack music, that is to take it, change it and make something new from it, which GitHub can facilitate. Adam Wood of the Church Music Association of America, recently created a repository for Gregorian chants. The chants and music can be represented using XML and those files uploaded to a GitHub repository which others can then fork and make their own. Or, as Wood has encouraged, GitHub can facilitate the crowdsourcing of the transcription of Gregorian chants that may only currently be accessible online in PDF formats or perhaps not at all. It’s the perfect (and perhaps only) melding of 10th century music with 21st century technology.

Arm with a tattoo of a To Do list
To Do lists

We all have way too much to do these days, and just keeping track of it all can be a project. Marketing engineer Carl Sednaoui presented an interesting alternative to sticky notes, whiteboards and apps by explaining how to use a GitHub Gist to manage a To Do list. Using GitHub Flavored Markdown, you can easily create a task list, that renders with checkboxes to see what you have or haven’t yet completed. Gists are Git repositories, meaning the entire change history of your To Do list gets tracked, so you can always review when you completed a certain task. So, go ahead and add “Create GitHub To Do List” to your current To Do list.

A close up an eagle insignia on a wall of Germany's Bundestag
German laws

Public laws are, obviously, already available to the public in various formats. But laws are continually changing and the history of those changes is also important to keep track of, which is where a platform like GitHub can help. Germany has published all of their federal laws and regulations in a GitHub repository so that, going forward, all changes to the laws will be tracked and available to the public. Also, people can suggest amendments to laws through pull requests, all of which will also become public record. Changing the laws, however, still has to be done the old fashioned way, through a vote of the Bundestag.

One wrestler taking down another wrestler
Credit: REUTERS/Toru Hanai
DMCA takedown requests

As you could imagine, with all of the code and projects being hosted on GitHub, instances of alleged copyright infringement are bound to come up. While it doesn’t happen frequently, GitHub does, occasionally, receive takedown requests from copyright owners to remove code, files or repositories that violate the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). Like other organizations, GitHub makes public these DMCA takedown requests and, appropriately, does so by putting them in a GitHub repository. So, to avoid being on this list, make sure what you share on GitHub isn’t someone else's IP!

Map of Illinois 4th congressional district, showing changes in the district before and after recent redistricting
Maps of congressional districts

Last year GitHub announced that it could now render geographic data, specifically GeoJSON files, as interactive maps. GitHub’s mapping functionality also includes visualizations of changes to maps over time (such as an interactive slider), and lets you customize your maps with style specifications. This now makes GitHub a great tool for crowdsourcing, and viewing, maps all of sorts. One neat example: this repository of the history U.S. congressional districts. You can visualize, for example, how Illinois’ 4th congressional district changed after redistricting in 2011. Who knew congressional redistricting could be so interesting?

A typewriter being used to write a story
Book manuscript

Author Juan Julián Merelo Guervós, a professor at the University of Granada, turned to GitHub to help him write his recent book, Manuel, the Magnificent Mechanical Man. Not being a native English speaker, he created a GitHub repository for the book so others could help him by offering corrections. He also encouraged people to fork the book in order to create their own version of his story. Errors in the book could be submitted as issues and suggested fixes (or changes to the story) could be submitted as pull requests. He’s even uploaded data on the book’s sales to GitHub. Maybe GitHub can be a cure for writer’s block?

A compositing table covered in typesetting materials
Open source fonts

Designers are finding ways to use GitHub just like developers do. The League of Movable Type, is using GitHub to manage the source files of its fonts and make them available for free under open source licenses. Like programmers contributing code fixes to other GitHub projects, like-minded proponents of open-source type can contribute fixes or enhancements to the League’s fonts, or even fork the repositories to build off their work. BTW, GitHub’s logo font is Village’s Apex Sans, which is not open source.

A suggestion box on a wall
Web accessibility standards documents

Just as GitHub is great for allowing people to crowdsource programming code, it’s also for great for crowdsourcing non-code documents. In particular, it allows for document owners to gather suggested changes, while retaining control of what changes actually get applied through the use of pull requests. Recently, the W3C’s Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) has decided to use GitHub to solicit comments on its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). While people could already provide feedback via email or online form, they can now also fork the repository and submit pull requests explaining their proposed changes. The WAI then decides which proposed changes to accept. Interestingly, the GitHub site itself could be more accessible.

Programming books on a shelf
Credit: ITworld/Phil Johnson
List of free online programming books

One thing GitHub is great for is crowdsourcing lists of things. Create a new repository which is a list of something, then let others fork it, update it and submit pull requests and, voilÀ. Naturally, one type of list that many of the people who use GitHub could help to maintain, and benefit from, is a list of free programming books. Such a list can now be found in this GitHub repository and contains over 500 books in English, as well as books in 18 other languages. Now we need a GitHub repository of lists managed via GitHub repositories.

Picture of a code of conduct on the wall
Twitters Open Source Code of Conduct

Twitter is a big player in open source, having been built with many open source tools. Twitter also continues to actively participate in and benefit from the open source community. Naturally, then, when it came time to specify an open source code of conduct, Twitter decided to open source its open source code of conduct and created a repository for it in GitHub. In addition to that, Twitter also created a GitHub repository for its innovators patent agreement, so others can comment on or fork it. Unlike on Twitter, though, comments can be more than 140 characters.

Close of a travel journal
An Australians U.S. travel plans

When Michael Mifsud, an Australian developer, was planning his trip to the U.S. last year, he decided to crowdsource his visit by creating a GitHub repository. He shared his general interests and asked people with suggestions of what to do or see to submit them via pull requests. For items that were likely to generate a lot of suggestions, he opened separate issues tied to the repository, such as ones for pizza or tacos joints in San Francisco. Clark Griswold would approve.

Wedding invitations
Wedding invitations

Planning a wedding is obviously a big job for anyone, so it’s not surprising that an engineer would turn to GitHub to help make the process a little easier. Before his wedding last year, Bubby Rayber created a GitHub repository for the wedding invitation. It contained basic information on the event, travel information and photos. Guests were encouraged to RSVP by opening an issue and to offer congratulations by creating a pull request. Others have made more traditional use GitHub to open source programming code for their invitations. So far, though, there’s no sign that anyone has used GitHub to crowdsource their divorce.