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Monday, July 2, 2012

Open or Complete?

A man is incomplete until he is married. After that, he is finished. - Zsa Zsa Gabor

For the last five years I have been trying to understand the tension between enterprise or proprietary development and open source development. A prominent example has been the competition between the iPhone and the Android operating system.

When it first came out, Android was pretty clunky, and wireless carriers were adding crapware and strange “custom” components to inflate airtime billing. By contrast, the iPhone was practically perfect, the realization of Steve Jobs vision of a smartphone. With an iPhone, you just power it up and start using it.

iPhone was the early smartphone leader, transforming mobile communication. We were entering the future!

Today, by what I read, there are more Android phones than iPhones sold every day, made possible by the incredible leverage of the open source model.

Twenty years ago the lunatic fringe was espousing open source, while level headed types were installing and using “enterprise software.”

Eric Raymond wrote and released The Cathedral and the Bazaar in 1992. CatB explains how open source was invented and what will happen as open source is adopted. CatB had been read by millions before it was published by O’Reilly in 2010.

Think about that. The book followed the inverse of the normal (at the time) publication model, becoming a commercial success after millions read it.

That outlier becomes even more significant when you consider what has happened to the traditional publication model over the last twenty years.

This week I had an opportunity to attend the Google IO developer’s forum. No, I didn’t go to the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Are you nuts?

I walked over to Google’s downtown DC office for a livestream of two days with some buds from the Google Developer Group DC “GeeDogDeeCee”.

I saw a cascade of new projects and opportunities. What I realized was that as impressive as they were, they weren’t finished. They are just beginning.

Users are going to customize the rich opportunities created by Google to make their lives better and more efficient. What we saw was amazing, including what technology veteran Steven J Vaughn-Nichols calls “Best Tech Demo ever.”

Now the work that will change our world begins. Once we imagine something we want to build, we change our work processes to take advantage of it.

For me, the new Events capability, where Google Plus, Docs, YouTube and other products combine to provide a better virtual experience, is going to change my world. First Events explanation, go to 1:18:00. It’s going to change how we produce and chronicle events, training, all kinds of virtual events.

I would rather read a transcript than watch most videos. A single camera and doubtful audio are boring.

However, when Buffalo Springfield played the Bridge School Concert in 2011, I spent an hour watching a half dozen audience videos. At the party after Day One of Google IO 2012, participants posted over 13,000 photos.

A client asked me how I would keep control of a presentation participants can enrich? I would rather have people spend time following material that interests them than my direction. They will get more from the experience.

I am continually being delighted by reader comments on blogs, especially to my own posts. Technology is enabling crowdsourced learning.

The night after the first session, Fred Wilson, A VC in NY started a project to apply the new file translation capabilities of Google Drive from Microsoft documents to open source documents. Fred hasn’t been a programmer for many years, but he’s willing to hack the Google ecosystem to create an important benefit.

That’s what I think the real strength of open source. Sure, we have guys like Bob Hancock, who at last count was a fluent programmer in 19 languages. But the best thing he showed me was when he used his Google Plus Page as the start point for his presentations.

Pamela Fox another Google presenter did the same thing, and shortly after, so did Jack and Dick. R & D is research and duplicate.

Early on, I showed Jack my Google profile (the predecessor to Google Plus). He was impressed, said it was the best use of web real estate he had seen. That wasn’t idle chatter.

At the time we had built and continue to maintain over a half dozen Google blogs and websites. We’re hardly professional geeks...and the work gets done.

The strength of open source is collaboration, from the very good to the very new, and everyone is getting all the value they can stand.

Joe Shumard went out a bought an Android phone a couple of years ago. He runs several Alexandria civic projects on Google Docs and Google websites he has built. He’s a banker, not a programmer.

Two weeks after he bought his Droid he gave me an hour demonstration of how he had changed it to make it do what he wanted. His tutor had been the Google search box, and the result was really slick, better than either of us had ever had on a phone previously.

If you can imagine it and then work at it, you can have it.

The old paradigm, It’s OK to compute as long as you have a qualified expert on retainer has been replaced by a new paradigm, Go ahead, you probably won’t break the internet today.

Open source will win because it supplies what the user wants bad enough to create. That and several million cooperative hackers provide an inventory where someone is working on what you need.

Reminds me of the story of Many Hands, the Native American electrician/marketer out there on the reservation. On the side of his pickup he’d written, Many Hands Makes The Light Work!


  1. Open source adds value but doesnt replace enterpries software unfortunately. It doesn't have the 24/7 support or dial-up help desk support that companies demand.

    Yes, unfortunate yet true.


  2. A good view of the effect of the open source concept in a traditional setting is Apple - when introduced, it was everything Apple. All programs and apps were written only by Apple and this strangled them - both in overhead and in slow to market timing. Users needed additional software solutions but had to wait, and wait, and wait before a solution appeared.

    Enter Apple 'Reborn' - code is written by Apple AND others - for the computer, tablet, iPhone. In fact the iPhone is a golden example - how many phone apps are available now? over 500K. Seems like 'I've got an app for that' is the answer to almost every need.

    A beauty of open source is if the app is not quite what is needed or does not work well, there's a legion of other developers that pick up the code and make changes - giving the originator attribution - and launch it. No waiting for the next REV.

    Thanks for a great discussion of the future now coming into view.