Is business against open?
A few weeks ago I wrote about the many ways Google is screwing the open (source) community all the time and it left me pondering. I’ve talked a lot about business models, the startup scene and the technology-driven disruptive ecosystem in this blog over the past years. I always liked the entrepreneurial attitude of getting things done instead of accepting the status quo. But I came to realise that especially if they are backed with investors money, also great startups turn into profit oriented corporations – exactly what they fought against in their early days. Not only in a few cases they also turn against the open culture they originated from. Leaving me with the question: is business – in general – against open?
We have discussed this when twitter was getting more restrictive in their API terms or the most recently when Makerbot was filing for patents on inventions of community origin. Both cases make a hell lot of sense – from a profit and business perspective. The more competition you have the less profit you’ll make in a market. Ergo, anything that cripples competition is in the companies interest. And clearly, community efforts for innovation and progress allow others to thrive and therefore is against the companies interest. I’m not saying all companies are against progress and innovation, but ones has to understand that at least for investors it is primarily about the money. The instant something happening threatening their market share, those investors will make sure the company fights it – that is called “protecting ones investment” and why investors buy themselves so much power when investing.
The same goes almost without saying, for any kind of opening up their own data and data centres. The data, the optimisation and extortion a business can make out of it, are business secrets. The investors as well as the CEOs will only allow this data to get out if they can turn it into profits (or by not doing are losing money). It is this data that prevents users to just switch to other services, not the service itself. On each and every pitch deck you’ll find the founders thoughts about how they will try to “lock in their customer”. And it is never “delivering a product/service that people love and are willing to pay for” but always about something that makes the customer stay involuntarily. Opening the data would make it a plane playing field where it suddenly would matter, which company offers the actual better service and someone else could come and offer a better service. It is an imminent thread to any business and they will do everything in their power to prevent it, like locking the customer in, so that even if another company would offer a better service, there is no way they can really switch (hint, Google).
And this is where the crux lies. Exactly this “forking”, that anyone could come and make a better version of what you’ve been doing is build into the fabric of OpenSource and a fundamental aspect of any truly openX community. Rendering these two incompatible in their very core architecture. One side considers innovation a thread to its existence, the other praises it for the progress it brings to society. So maybe just bringing “open” to business isn’t going to work ever. Maybe we have to rethink business in total to make it work with open at all.
Thanks to David for providing this great picture of a business getting “open” the wrong side up under CC-SA 2.0 on Flickr. Bonus Points for it having my name in it!