The Quintessence of Open Source

caponeThe second Innovators barcamp – a meet-up organized by the Italian innovators group to pass from talking about innovation to do it in and for public administrations – was the perfect venue to share some ideas about “Open Source & Multi-sided Markets“.

My ignite talk was around on one of the most important value of open source, if not the only one that makes open source a “different thing”: the community. Having had the opportunity to share my thoughts with over 100 attendees in a bare 5 minutes talk, I want here to talk deeper about why the community matters, focusing on its different constituents and their relative interests.

The value of an open source company has a direct correlation to the size of the community and its ability to influence and monetize it. (Rob Bearden, executive-in-residence at Benchmark Capital and well-known open source veteran, via Stephen Walli)

A community is not just a ‘software distribution mechanism’. Vendor-led open source communities most of the times are made of few Q&A forums and some mailing-lists,  but exploiting the “real” value of open source demands the creation of  living open source communities.While rarely end-users or customers want to take part into co-production, they can be happy to co-create value in use at the point of consumption.

Multi-sided markets and open source.

Bilateral and multi-sided markets are markets in which firms need to get two or more distinct groups of customers who value each other’s participation to generate use value. In traditional one-sided markets, even if firms serve different types of customers, they lack such interdependency.

Customers, developers, ISVs, SIs and users are different kind of ‘customers’ served by an open source offer, and they use it at different times. Innovators and early adopters most of the times are not customers, and they trade their time for money (in MÃ¥rten Mickos’ words). Once developers get a ride on your package it is time for SIs and customers, and if you put in place a channel program also VARs will come, and so on. All this ‘customers’ need different things, and a vendor makes its own decisions about which target customer are they going after.

CentOS linux distribution serves a group of  ‘customers’ who Red Hat doesn’t serve directly, but they are definitely part of the Red Hat open source ecosystem.

Is the Public Sector any different?

The European open source observatory provides European public administrations with a repository of programs tailored for the public sector, but almost none of these projects has a vibrant surrounding community.

The Italian Software reuse catalog (mostly based on proprietary software) as well as the Italian open source forge are not different in this respect.

ADULLACT, a French free software association bringing together under the same umbrella different stakeholders, is the living proof that a multi-sided approach is beneficial to all parties.

Ask before try, not even to mention before to buy: mind the open source community gap!