In just a few short months GitHub has become a huge hit in the programming community, especially in the open source and Rails communities. GitHub provides software repository services using Git, the decentralized version control system created by Linus Torvalds and used by the Linux kernel project. GitHub hosts about 10,000 projects and officially launched in April of this year after a beta period of a few months.
It may seem counterintuitive to create a centralized software repository using what is supposed to be a decentralized system, but what makes GitHub special are the social features it offers. Git makes it easy to fork and merge code, and GitHub has taken those concepts and built social networking features around them, including user and project news feeds of comments, forks, commits, and other project related activities.
Earlier this week, GitHub applied some of the same concepts to the practice of “pasting” and created their own pastebin site called Gist. Pastebins, such as the popular Pastie, have become an invaluable tool for many coders, especially those working with collaborators, by letting developers paste and share small code snippets.
Gist builds upon that idea by adding version control for code snippets, easy forking, and SSL encryption for private pastes. Because each “gist” is its own Git repository, multiple code snippets can be contained in a single paste and they and be pushed and pulled using Git. Further, forked code can be pushed back to the original author in the form of a patch, so pastes can become more like mini-projects.
As TechCrunch notes, GitHub’s hope with Gist is that people will find it easier to contribute to open source projects without having to first become familiar with how Git works. TechCrunch also notes, though, that Gist is missing full text search. Gist is already a killer pasting services, and with a few small improvements it could be nearly perfect.