Access and Feeds

Open Source: Free the Data!

By Dick Weisinger

The term “Open Source” has been with us since 1998.  And in those twelve years it has had a significant impact on the software industry.  Open Source initially influenced how software is developed, but Open Source has also had a big effect on how software is licensed and sold.  Business models have been built around the concepts of Open Source.  Business models have also been twisted to include Open Source.  Technology publisher Tim O’Reilly was one of the first to pick up on and evangelize on the possibilities of Open Source.  In April 1998 O’Reilly held an Open Source Summit that brought together many of the leaders of the “Free Software” movement.

Twelve years later O’Reilly is still a dominant force behind Open Source.  Last month O’Reilly gave the keynote address at the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco.  A key point of O’Reilly’s address was that while software might be more open than it was 12 years ago, data isn’t any more free than it was, and there is so much more of it.   The value of software applications is often more in the data that they can manage rather than in the software itself.

More and more large companies like Google are accumulating massive amounts of data that only they can control.  Google’s page rank is based on a massive index of links between pages on the internet, but it also includes people clicks, something that is under their control.  More people have contributed to Amazon than to Linux.  eBay commands power primarily because of the data they can collect.  Many of these companies have used Open Source tools to build and grow applications that people want, but that ultimately has led to them capturing data that becomes proprietary to their company.  O’Reilly commented that “The lock-in of today is through massive databases that are so hard to re-create because they get better the more people use them.”

Peter Norvig, Google’s Chief Scientist, said that “We don’t have better algorithms than anyone else.  We just have more data.”  O’Reilly went on to say that “interoperable web services, open data, and standard protocols are at least as important as Open Source.”

O’Reilly’s goal now is to free the data.  Something that will be easier said than done.

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