LittleSis Goes Open Source: An Offering and an Invitation

As you may know, LittleSis is built entirely with open-source software, out of necessity as well as out of principle. Over the years the growing OSS movement has given budget-strapped organizations an ever-expanding suite of free and powerful tools to implement ambitious technology projects, as well as the support of a generous community of developers always eager to teach and counsel.

(For the curious, LittleSis runs on a Debian Linux operating system running an nginx web server. Our source code is written in PHP using the Symfony framework, and we manage our data with MySQL. These components have worked well for us, and if you’re interested in other details of our implementation, we’re happy to share our epxeriences with you.)

We founded LittleSis with aim of creating a free public repository of data about powerful people and institutions and the connections between them. Our entire website is freely accessible, programmers can speedily fetch our data in machine-readable formats via our API, and registered users can improve and add to the data so long as they prioritize accuracy and document their sources.

Today we’re publishing our source code under the GNU General Public License. We’ve set up a developer wiki at to host the code and its documentation. (We haven’t posted much documentation yet, but we will, some sunny day.) Our developer wiki will always show our freshest code will track improvements we make to it from here on.

We’ll be the first to tell you that our code is nowhere close to optimal and can use a lot of help — we’re not ninja programmers, just grasshoppers who’ve come a long way. The important thing is that it does its job, reliably serving the growing LittleSis research community. If you’re interested in setting up your own “involuntary facebook” with the LittleSis code, give us a shout and we can tell you more about its strengths and weaknesses.

If you’re a developer who’s fluent in PHP, knows a thing or two about MVC frameworks, and would like to help us improve this open source project, please get in touch. We have lots of ideas, and we’re sure you do too.

Update: I originally picked the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license for the source code, because it was similar to GNU GPL but with convenient metadata and a human-readable deed. It turns out I had no idea what I was doing: commenter Jord pointed out that CC advises against using that license for software — whoopsie! — so we’re now releasing it under GPL. Anyone interested in our code license either already knows what GPL is, or should become familiar with its ins and outs.