Subject: Re: Competition by internal expertise for F/OSS vendors
From: orthox@prototribe.net
Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2008 12:54:16 -0400

I may be off base here, but based on what i've been reading of the
discussion over the past several days it has been running up against
limitations of context. And without inclusion of a greater context to
frame the discussion at least two philosophies are being thrown at each
other in an appearance of exclusivity.

I feel that that context would need to extend all the way down to the
most basic of motivations. Food and shelter and its level of scarcity.

For Mr. Lords arguments to have merit, ultimately software and software
development cannot be considered substantial revenue source. I view
"Open Source" (term used loosely) as the lowest common denominator. If a
company can't do better they probably shouldn't be in business. This
notion has already hurt companies and reduced profits in private
software sector. Where does this take us in the long run? A complete
software stack that individuals can use to accommodate nearly 100% of
their computing needs available for free would eliminate the need or
desire to purchase software at nearly any cost (piracy may also increase
as well. if nearly everything else is free whats an app or two).

You may have people working to develop more software but most would be
"contributing" to community projects gratis and reaping the benefit of
the project. It may be possible to pay developers, but probably not much
more than you could make in a restaurant given the competition of
no-cost software. This doesn't bode well for the software "industry" and
would likely lead people into other industries to earn their food and
shelter. If at some point in the future where advanced rep-rap like
devices are common (along with the resources it needs) and a nearly free
means of food production are available it may be another story. I
suppose a socalist society/government would be more conducive towards
this approach as the burdens of living would be reduced via government
stipend/provisioning. Or maybe a renaissance style patronage mechanism
could find new life.

Advertising as a means of revenue based on Mr. Lords arguments is bound
to collapse eventually, project donations rarely amount to anything, so
the most apparent passive revenue streams are out. Someone may be able
to come up with a new passive stream, but I haven't been able to yet. (I
may have though of one, see below). It would likely leave low level wage
earning as the primary occupation in the software industry. In my
opinion, there needs to be a "commercial carrot" to move open source
forward until such a time in what is probably the distant future the
costs of Food and Shelter are equivalently reduced (maybe my opinion is
based on my attempts at providing for my food and shelter via software).
Even in this case there is the potential for abuse (or revenue
generation) by internet providers to charge extra for "open source"
downloads by charging a metered fee dynamically as the download is
occurring. (Net neutrality?)

On the other hand,  if open source software is viewed as a way of
providing for those needs of food and shelter (the more I think about it
that last statement is probably anathema to the philosophical
originators of the movement), it must operate on many fronts: (i'm sure
i'm missing some)
-Providing low cost or free alternatives to other software (reduced
costs for all, definitely a strong benefit in my book)
-Encouraging reciprocal voluntary contributions (probably the most
important part in my book. its helping change the way society thinks in
general)
-Finding ways of creating scarcity in relation to its product(s) to
generate revenue (commercial carrot to promote enhanced use and a
slippery slope in both directions)
-Low barrier of entry for software development exposure, training

Most non-webservice related open source projects base revenue streams
via "commercial support" and proprietary add-on packages to the open
source base and the value is primarily derived by company marketing
convincing people there is value there. Often there is but i've seen
many a case where a $3,000/day developer came onsite to help with an
in-house app based on the open source/commercial platform and provided
zero to minimal help or insight (stuff we'd already been over in the
source ourselves). Permitting a "commercial carrot" will offer more in
the near term to forward the base of open source software while offering
more capability in the open source industry to provide for Food and
Shelter. I'd suggest open source software only has the level of
penetration these days because it can be used to generate more revenue
than before. Take that away and open source will fade into the
background again and may take decades to catch back up). (It makes me
think of the notion that Microsoft permitted rampant pirating of Windows
95 back in the day to achieve market penetration/saturation then spent
decades ratcheting back the levels of pirated software via various
means. Open source does not have this level of penetration yet I think).

Scarcity via GNU?
Some of the open source licenses out there esp the gnu licenses to
leverage a monopoly of sorts (promote scarcity of a product in certain
contexts). Take wikipedia for example. They are pretty close to the
defacto encyclopedia on the interweb. But trying to use that data
outside of a wikipedia like site has some serious problems. Most notably
is the clauses related to the inclusion of license and attribution
information with any use. even if it were a single article or s
subsection of an article. I had looked into offering a tts phone service
for wikipedia, but based on the license limitations and discussions with
the FSF it couldn't be done practically. (The GFDL has no provisions for
audible reproduction of content which basically means that strict
copyright applies to the content.) I believe in wikipedias case this
isn't strictly intentional. Basically you could create a large
knowledgebase (say of recipes) and have a huge section of text that
would have to be included in any full or partial reproduction of that
knowledge (per the GFDL). That would effectively severely limit the
utility of the data outside of a context approximating the source.


I apologize if this email bounces around a bit. Its several hours of
thoughts and revisions. Hopefully it helps provide a new thought or two.
(Two is probably hoping for too much.)

Mark