RStudio reborn as a Public Benefit Corporation – commits itself to open source, not shareholders

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RStudio has rebirthed itself as a Public Benefit Corporation, meaning the company behind the eponymous IDE for R can run itself for the benefit of the R community as well as its shareholders.

The change was announced by CEO JJ Allaire at its user conference yesterday, and will be seen in part as an effort to offset concerns that the IDE maker might wield too much influence over the direction of R as a whole. Which is always going to be a concern where commercial organisations and open source projects meet.

In a blog post yesterday, Allaire said “RStudio’s mission is to create free and open-source software for data science, scientific research, and technical communication.” He said the firm leads contributions to over 250 open source projects, as well as selling its eponymous IDE and other commercial products and online services.

But, he continued, “Melding the mission of creating open-source software with the imperatives of sustaining a commercial enterprise is a tricky business. It’s especially so today, as corporations are frequently forced into doing whatever it takes to sustain growth and provide returns to shareholders, even against the interests of their own customers.”

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He warned that “Users should be wary of the underlying motivations and goals of software companies, especially ones that provide the essential tools required to carry out their work.”

Hence the move to become a Delaware Public Benefit Company AKA Certified B Corporation, which the firm said makes it a member of “a group of for-profit companies assessed to meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability.”

According to Allaire’s presentation, the move provides “reliable governance for the long term” and ensures “that the company can’t lose its independence against its will”, which presumably will ensure RStudio – and its tools – can’t be borged a rival with a more proprietary approach to software.

The company is profitable, the presentation added, and “we plan to use these profits to purchase stock back from our shareholders over time (as opposed to selling the company or going public)”.

“Once our shareholder commitments are met, we will dedicate a substantial portion of our profits to philanthropic causes that benefit open source software and open science, and will document these donations in our annual public benefit report.”

Certified B corporations include the likes of Ben and Jerry’s, the ice cream company that balances producing Cherry Garcia and encouraging voter turnout with being a subsidiary of global consumer goods giant Unilever. Patagonia, the outdoor gear company beloved of data scientists, is also a B Corp.

RStudio has published a report on its assessment as a B Corp, scoring 86.1 points out of a possible 200+. That compares to an average of 53.4 for non BCorps. On “customer impact” it scored 24.1 out of a possible 25+.

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