TiltBrush is Open Source! Sort of...

This is going to be a short post because I don't have many organised thoughts and I don't think I have much to say but yesterday (26th of January 2021) Google published a blog post stating that TiltBrush is now open source! Amazing news for everyone, there's actually a community petition for this to happen that was made some time ago so it seems great except for 2 incredibly significant caveats.

  • The whole dev team is disbanded and Google is no longer maintaining the project
  • While the code is open source, the project is archived in the GoogleVR org GitHub which, I would argue does not make it an open source project.

Open source is about more than just posting code online, if that was all there is to it Stack Overflow is probably an open source cornucopia. Open source is about the community of consumers of a library/project having input to the development of the future of the project by being able to directly change the codebase with Pull Requests and create Issues (so many issues). Due to the repo being archived the only way for developers to modify the source of the project is to fork it and maintain their own forks. At the time of writing there are very nearly 200 forks of this project... I have some real doubts that this is going to result in the project being able to stay alive in any meaningful way unless all these forks can somehow club together and start managing the project in a cohesive way.

As someone who works at a company making a fellow VR tool for creatives you might think I have some conflict here or am bitter but to be honest I've never given TiltBrush much thought other than seeing the really cool stuff people have made online that makes me envy people's creative talent. Having just claimed to have no beef with TiltBrush though... This really feels like classic Google doing what they do best, buying something that is actually just a good product and then some day writing it off because it's not profitable enough for the trillion dollar company. The TiltBrush devs obviously worked extremely hard to get the repo to a place where they even could open source it in any capacity but it still feels like Google haven't even given the project a fighting chance to survive in any way other than being a cool bit of VR history you can compile in Unity.

It's worth mentioning that there is a worthy effort going on in the community (Icosa Gallery) to keep the project alive with so many passionate people and talented creatives involved perhaps there is hope and I'm just a bit of a debby downer, I hope so because I think TiltBrush played an important part in making VR less gamer-centric and more creative-centric, the idea of there being an open source version of TiltBrush that is actively organised, maintained and developed is exciting for everyone including the 'competitors' (I would really argue we're not competitors but at the surface it probably looks like it).

As a final positive note I'm going to link a couple incredibly cool and rapid things people have done with the project since it became open source.

Multiplayer TiltBrush

Custom Brushes Tutorial