Maybe now it’s a good time to sit back and think carefully about where the open source model is working or has real potential:
In 1998 start-ups were happy to burn through wads of cash or lose money on each online transaction.. Today, even open source companies regarded as successful admit they are still “learning” the ropes or struggling to convert users of their free offerings
There are two areas to think about: who will lose money when the bubble burst, and more generally, how generally applicable ‘open source’ is as a way of doing business.
On the first point, maybe the difference with the bubble this time is that the money is being spent by big corporations (eg Google/YouTube, News International/MySpace) rather than excited individuals buying into dodgy IPOs. The public is being protected to some extent because both Google and News International will be able to keep going (and their shares will still have some value), even after they write down their investments. They’ll probably suffer less than TimeWarner did with its AOL lemon last time round.
The Open Innovation Exchange as reported in Nick Booth’s PodNosh will be one interesting test-case of the extensibility of the OS model. It’s a bid being put together by a group of consultants – they’re aware that it’s an experiment and of the risks involved, and in a lot of ways, it’ll be nice if this model succeeds, by giving groups a small players a route to compete with the large established consultancies.
On the other hand, if this model does take off, I worry that there is the risk that instead of the government being able to choose between a range of different approaches suggested by competing businesses, they’ll in effect be forced to take they’re offered. We’re not not exactly talking about a new OPEC or even a monopolistic craft guild here though…
Finally (speaking of craft guilds), a tangential thought which I know is probably not original, and is posed as a provocation more than anything else: Could it be that ‘open source’ is a response by skilled crafts-people to the economic changes that are commoditising or industrialising their skills? In the same way as ‘anarchism’ was largely supported by the likes of skilled watchmakers, cobblers and peasants between end of the 19th century and the early 20th century as their societies industrialised. In which case, we can look forward to decades of romantic attachment to ideas like the ‘gift economy’ (eg here for example), idealistic young people and utoptian experiments. I hope I’m wrong though!