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Free beer and Open Data

door Arne Keuning op

Free beer and Open Data

For many open source is a great example of innovation. Software like Linux, Apache, Joomla and OpenOffice have thriving communities that create great software. however, these products are not innovative. Linux is a clone from Unix that was developed in the 60's, Apache is just another webserver, Joomla is one of the many content management systems and OpenOffice tries to mimic Word.

At the start of the open source movement the statement was that Open Source was to be free like in free speech, not as in free beer. In English the word free has two connotations: free as in gratis (no money) and free as in libre (free to go). Unfortunately open source has become free beer.

For an innovative product to be sustainable it needs a business model. Picture a young programmer that, in his time off from his day job, creates an innovative product that others start to use. After some time more and more demands will be made for new functionality and the solving of bugs. More and more of his free time will be spent on this product. He can not quit his day job because his innovative product does not bring in money in license fees since it is gratis. After some time he quits the project. Sourceforge, the place where many open source projects have a home, is filled with interesting but nonetheless failed projects like these. Sourceforge is the place where projects go to die ..

The main reason why a few examples like Joomla and Linux survive is because of many companies around it make money by delivering services. Because it is not innovative it is a product category that is understood by potential customers that are willing to pay for services implementing it. What we need is a business model for the software itself. What we need to do is to severe the connection between the openness of the software (to be able to inspect code is a good thing) and the business model behind it (being able to make a living creating great products).

We run the risk that the same thing now is happening in the open data movement. Pressure is set on several organizations to open up their data so app developers can build applications on top of it. We should realize that, once these organizations do not make money on that data, that the quality and access to that data will not be of strategic importance to them. We should as much as possible enforce the openness of the data to prevent a monopoly of information access. But the original creators of that data should be able to make a llving out of it.

Data should be free like in free speech, not as in free beer …

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