Barcamp: “Free as in Business: lucrative coopetition”

Last saturday Rome guested the first romecamp.
BarCamp is an emerging international network of open and participatory workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants, focusing on web applications (mostly Web 2.0) and related technologies and social aspects.

Barcamp rules are simple:

No spectators, only participants.
Attendees must give a demo, a session, or help with one, or otherwise volunteer / contribute in some way to support the event. All presentations are scheduled the day they happen. Prepare in advance, but come early to get a slot on the wall. The people present at the event will select the demos or presentations they want to see.

A the very last moment I got myself organized to give a speech titled:

Free as in Business: lucrative coopetition.

I started talking about the relationships between open source firms and communities.
Analyzing voluntary FLOSS organization of work more than three years ago we idealtypically classified the FLOSS production model into three organizational categories:

  • Corporate;
  • Voluntary;
  • Hybrid.

Projects falling under the corporate category have the same organizational attributes of projects conducted under a traditional firm.
The voluntary and hybrid categories share the property that the individuals participating to the production process are partially self-selected. Since the mechanism of entry and exit to production is open to contributors, as a result open source firms can save costs of production, involving users and developers in any stage of the software life-cycle.

Later Magnusson and Dahlander proposed a typology of the different approaches used by open source firms to inter-relate to their communities, distinguishing the following categories:

  • symbiotic;
  • commensalistic;
  • parasitic.

In a parasitic relationship the firm comes to be perceived as a negative influence by the community, either in terms of its violation of basic values or simply perceived as a free rider.
It’s clear that no open source firm would choose such approach, and discussing about companies doing it sounds a bit out of topic.

In a commensalistic approach the firm and the comunity benefit from the co-existence with another entity while leaving it without harm, while in a symbiotic approach implies that the firm tries to co-develop itself and the community.

In the latter hybrid approach firm management have to be directly involved in community development, but to influence the community the legitimacy has to be gained.

Open Source firms sometimes want just to cut costs of production, but often the legitimacy to influence the community is needed to positively influence the market as well.

But Firms providing IT services to Fortune 500 need to participate to roadmap definition, since commercial open source firms don’t play a lot in the analyst-approval game yet. For OS firms targeting medium-to-large customers to be in the know by the community is a must.

Marketing Open Source might be cost effective, but create positive externalities it’s not trivial: firms have to spend time and effort for networking, through IT magazines, webinars and corporate blog, spreading the word as much as possible.

Technological clubs are an interesting option, as shown by projects like OpenAdaptor, or KUALI and SAKAI, living examples of how beneficial or eventually remunerative can be technological clubs’ participation.

About economic models classification, I went through externally funded, internally funded and unfunded distinctions, making examples of effectively public funded projects, shortly addressing risks about appropriating returns both for best code here and best knowledge here approaches.

Business models based on intrinsic free software characteristics focused on Intellectual property indemnification, licensing issues, warranty, stack dependability, benchmarking and mediation were discussed as “orizontal model” (as opposed to a more typical “vertical model”).

Then Nicola Mattina came up with a question about why so many CIOs are uninterested in open source solutions. While the public choice theory might (partially) explain why some decisions are taken, since any interest revolves around spending money, when Open source helps to cut costs it doesn’t have the high profile required to be a promotion vehicle.

Open Source is not sexy yet, but Linux and very few other products most of OS products are unknown to the general public, and often CIOs are not even aware of the existence of new ways of getting the job done.

Someone else asked about Open Source market dimension, and I reported what I just read on the European Commission report on the Economic Impact of FLOSS:

Firms have invested an estimated Euro 1.2 billion in developing FLOSS software that is made freely available. Such firms represent in total at least 565 000 jobs and Euro 263 billion in annual revenue.

My conclusion:

Don’t ask what open source can do for you (entepreneurs), but what you can do for open source!