How can open source projects have a bigger impact?

Disclaimer : This article was originally published in EIOM blog.

There are many open model projects but most of them have difficulty spreading out. Between ideology and technical feasibility, how can they have a bigger impact? With eiom, we are trying to promote the “open” vision, in the energy industry, traditionally very closed.

When you go out and talk about open source, many only see a blurry world of black and green screens. Linux, Mozilla Firefox, Libre-Office and many others helped democratise open source, however all these software are usually associated with an ideology, and are considered to only be accessible to a certain community. Do we really need to be an expert to use, and contribute to open source? What is true for software is also true in other areas. Distribution of artworks in Creative Commons is still, unfortunately, very limited, and open hardware is mostly reduced to complex plans accessible on dusty servers. Haven’t open source contributors ever thought to optimize user-experience?

An ideological issue

For a long time, and still today, many teachers have considered Wikipedia to not be a viable source. Of course, this model had some limits, but even Google (which we know to be very touchy when it comes to the quality of search results) now quotes directly articles from Wikipedia to answer users’ queries. A growing number of people believe in the power of open source and do not need any convincing, yet many see the faults before the potential. Many industries built themselves around the “hit” strategy, and are strongly opposed to open models, which prefers quantity over quality by default.

However, this ideology clash can also be found the other way around. The issue with openness is that it only works if everybody is a part of it, or at least this is what is believed by many. There is a fear of the “free rider” in the open source community, someone that would use open source without ever contributing. But should this fear, as legitimate as it can be, limit the impact of open source projects?

It has been proven that open models can be economically viable, and many open source companies are making a profit out of a massive use of their open products, while protecting their contributors or financers by giving them added value. Should it be political, intellectual or social, what drives open source contributors is usually separated from the direct use of the product or services created.

A feasibility issue

More than personal beliefs on pro or against open, open initiatives are usually confronted to extreme competition when it comes to their open products. Mozilla faces Google or Apple’s power to distribute its browser Firefox. Many still see using Firefox as a political act, or at least motivated by a belief more than by the quality of the product. It’s simply an issue of image. Open models are limited to a closed community because the main public struggles to see the real value in those initiatives, probably because of a lack of communication or simply because of prejudice. Yet, the impact of those initiatives, whichever they are, is and will always be linked to a massive adoption, or at least critical mass.

We need to spread out those projects massively

Safari and Chrome have incorporated the plug in logic after Firefox, which was looking for a way to distribute a browser full of features to people who only needed a browser, without taking out essential features to contributors, who had often developed them themselves. It is this duality of interest that is at the start of the plug-in strategy, which is now a standard for every browser. We could be mad at Google and Apple who “stole” the idea from Mozilla. But isn’t it for the best? Isn’t it preferable that this innovation, which enabled better browsers that you can completely customize, and a better user experience on the web (better browsers mean richer sites), spread out to a community of users bigger than that of contributors and users of open source? Should we promote the open for the open or for the impact that it can have on everyone’s daily lives?

This is where eiom comes in, seeing how many open source projects are quickly confronted to big players in the energy industry and how they struggle to go further than the prototype stage, we want to distribute massively those technologies and go beyond the open source communities. We want to question the definition of openness. Can we spread massively the use of open source products and services? How can we have a real and long term impact on an industry while giving value to the contributors?

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One thought on “How can open source projects have a bigger impact?

  1. VOISEUX

    “Open models are limited to a closed community because the main public struggles to see the real value in those initiatives, probably because of a lack of communication or simply because of prejudice. Yet, the impact of those initiatives, whichever they are, is and will always be linked to a massive adoption, or at least critical mass.”

    Mmmhhh.. To me, the issue goes far beyond the lack of communication or simply prejudice. There is also, when it comes to Linux , an issue of hardware interoperability, of distribution, of a technocrat-centered culture by certain free software communities, and a lack of professional service when it comes to BtoC.

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