I notice there have been a couple of questions now about why project this and that failed (Beagle, Hotwire). I understand historical questions, but in general I don't see these being as much of history... nore are they likely to get real answers. Truth is the community, or developers lost interest or moved on. Unless we asked an actual project dev we might not actually get a real answer. I don't find that they are particularly useful questions. And to that end I think they should be "offtopic", but I'd like to know what others think?

3 Answers 3


I share your hesitation, I did hesitate about closing both these questions. I would consider “What killed XFree86” to be a valid historical question, because it was a key component of many unix systems as opposed to an application. Beagle was an application, but it was one of the major players in its domain. Hotwire was virtually unknown.

In the case of Hotwire, which seems to have had only two developers, at least one of which has an easy-to-find email address, the best way to get an answer is surely to email the developers. In the case of Beagle, the answer turned out to be on a project mailing list. However, on reflection, I'm not sure that this consideration is relevant: Stack Exchange aims to be a repository for all kinds of information, so having the answer here is part of this site's purpose.

There's a Free open source software projects site proposal that might accept these questions.

I don't like this question much, I think mainly because the “why” aspect can probably only be answered authoritatively by two people. On the other hand I would have no problem with “What is the status of hotwire-shell, is the original project dead, is anyone maintaining it or a fork?” — but it's not such a different question.

TL,DR: I dunno.

  • If someone asks the same question, he should be able to find the answer here. And AFAIK Hotwire wasn't cross-platform, so this is the right place to ask about it. If I mail the devs themselves, then only I will benefit. Sure I can ask on a public mailing list, but what if it was asked before? The question serves the check if anyone here has seen some answer somewhere, and to share the link if they have it.
    – tshepang
    Dec 11, 2010 at 20:43
  • @tshepang I've already discussed that "cross-platform" is not a good litmus test for what is or isn't on topic. Dec 11, 2010 at 20:48
  • Just an FYI that the dashboard-devel list was actually the beagle mailing list, it's just nonobvious. Dec 12, 2010 at 21:16

I started to write the comment "I hope this doesn't become a trend -- projects just die out sometimes" on the second answer, but decided to hold off unless it happened a third time. I'm on the fence too, since they are legitimate questions, but almost impossible to answer in most situations. The questions didn't get any close votes, so I guess the rest of the community is ok with them. As long as somebody doesn't post "Why did X die out?" for every project X they've ever followed I guess it'll be ok

  • You make me think of a solution to such a problem. How about a question What killed X? which calls for one Answer/death? The interested people could then add Comments to the Question, asking for explanations for specific death causes.
    – tshepang
    Dec 14, 2010 at 1:32
  • @Tshepang Definitely not; you're trying to bend the SE engine to fit a style it wasn't designed for. It's better to post questions as questions Dec 14, 2010 at 1:37
  • Should it then be a Community wiki where the dead are in the main body, and removed whenever Answered? I think this would be an ever better idea.
    – tshepang
    Dec 14, 2010 at 1:50
  • this is getting morbid... if these are about finding out that/if people died... then I'm really starting to think it's not ontopic Dec 14, 2010 at 13:59
  • @xeno Are you joking?
    – tshepang
    Dec 17, 2010 at 15:56

A link to a declaration of death by a lead developer or a close watcher (EG: a blog post that explains the cause) is enough of an Answer.

The death of projects are caused by other factors other than just loss of interest. XFree86 died because of change of license for example.

Other reasons why projects die:

  • lack of adoption (maybe due to bad marketing)
  • lack of much money (EG: if they happened to be driven by paid developers)
  • being superceded by better alternatives
  • etc...
  • 1
    Strictly speaking a declaration of death may not be the final answer, as someone else could have forked the project. In a way, “is there a maintained fork of X?” feels more suitable than “why did X die?”, because the why aspect is something only the people who stopped working on it may know whereas anyone could pipe up and say “oh, I'm currently maintaing Y which is based on X.” Dec 11, 2010 at 19:44
  • @Gilles Well... but I'm more interested on the cause of the project's death, than if there exist forks, right? Of course it would add value if the guy Answering would mention the existence of a fork (if there is).
    – tshepang
    Dec 11, 2010 at 20:19

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