Gobs of new open source projects are released every year, but only a few really capture the imaginations of businesses and developers.
Open source software management company Black Duck tries to spot these, measuring which projects attract the most contributors, produce the most code, and garner the most attention from the developer world at large.
Dubbed the Black Duck Rookies of the Year, the ranking isn't a perfect measure of the project popularity, but it can be can tell us a bit about where the world of open source is going. And that's no small thing. So much of the internet–and the modern business world—now runs on open source software, software that's freely shared with the world at large.
Judging from Black Duck's latest list, software developers are particularly interested in building widely distributed online applications that operate outside the control of big tech companies such as Google, Apple, and Amazon—applications like the bitcoin digital currency. Bitcoin is a system that runs across a vast network of machines that's outside the control of central banks or governments.
Software hacker types have long been interested in this sort of decentralization, but interest in such egalitarian operations has risen since NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden revealed the scope of the agency's surveillance activities. And it's now at an all-time high.
According to Black Duck, one of last year's most successful new projects was Storj, which aims to use bitcoin's technology to help users store file online without sacrificing their privacy. Think of it as bitcoin meets Dropbox.
The idea is that you'll upload your files to Storj's distributed cloud, but only you'll be the only one with the keys to decrypt your data. Plus, you can sell your extra storage space to make money.
IPFS—short for "InterPlanetary File System"—is even more ambitious. The project aims to create a censorship-resistant alternative to the web, taking inspiration from peer-to-peer technologies like BitTorrent.
And given all the uproar over the Silk Road, the bitcoin-based marketplace most famous for illicit drugs, it's hardly surprising to see OpenBazaar on Black Duck's list. OpenBazaar could to do for e-commerce what BitTorrent did for file sharing: create a decentralized alternative that the government can't shut down.
But decentralization isn't the only thing developers are interested in. As the internet expands, they're also hard at work on new software projects that can facilitate this expansion—projects that can help juggle enormous amounts of online traffic and data.
Google knows more about this kind of thing than any other company. So it's no surprise that many of these new projects were either created by Googlers or ex-Googlers.
One example is Kubernetes, a Google project that aims to help developers make use of Linux "containers"—a red-hot technology that can improve the efficiency of vast online applications. Another is cAdvisor, a tool created by Googlers to help monitor the performance of containers. And then there's Cockroach DB—a database system created by ex-Googlers and inspired by an internal Google project called Spanner.
The rise of CockroachDB "suggests a sizable unmet need in the database space," says founder Spencer Kimball. And so many other projects on the Black Duck list suggest similar holes in the market. But those holes are being filled.
Correction 1/28/2015 at 7:40pm EST: An earlier version of this story said that OpenBazaar aimed to create a decentralized alternative to Silk Road. The developers object to this characterization of their goals.