Yes to new open source business models, no to whinging

Now is the time for dreaming new dreams, bigger dreams, and building them in our virtual garages. Those whose imaginations fly highest will go furthest on the next turn of the wheel. This is, in fact, our period of greatest opportunity, because we have time to dream big dreams and explore them.

Whinging is one of my favorite British imports of this century.

It shares an etymology with whining, but in modern parlance there is an air of special pleading about it.

Kids whine about broccoli, AIG traders whinge about their bonuses. We sympathize with the kid, the trader not so much.

(The etymology owes much to Harry Potter. It's here our hero hails from, as noted in this essay from the Harry Potter Lexicon, from which the illustration is taken.)

Recessions bring out the whingers in all of us. This was true during the dot-bomb, and it's true now. My favorite whinge is "we can't do free anymore" when in fact that was never the model in the first place.

The Internet model was a micropayment in the form of advertising. The open source model is conversion to paid support.

Both these models depend on a healthy market to sustain them. Without ads Google goes bust. If cutbacks mean no one can convert to paid support Red Hat does too.

Driving monetization is a question that worries Matt Asay quite a bit, and it should. When traditional routes fail, what else is left?

Three things are left, it seems to me.

  1. Innovating new business models. Creating services people will pay for online, managing actual projects (and climbing the value chain) in open source.
  2. Tweaking existing business models. Aggregating new audiences for advertising online, pioneering new conversion techniques in open source.
  3. Recognizing extra-monetary value. Hard as it may be to accept there are values beyond money in the Internet and open source. Using the Internet to connect and to learn, or using open source to tear down someone else's castle, these too are market realities.

In a conventional recession, and in some ways this is just that, people who are out of work are out of luck. In an Internet recession, and this is the second we've had, people are not so helpless.

In the last downturn I went in two years from an income of $100,000 to an income of zero. But thanks to this medium I never stopped working. I wrote books, both fiction and non-fiction. I worked in campaigns, both partisan and non-partisan. I explored this medium.

Eventually I found blogging, or blogging found me. And if this gig ended tomorrow I still would not stop working. I would find things to write about, I would find new production methods, I would find a way through.

As Marshall McLuhan said a generation ago, the medium is the message. The message of the Internet is we always start anew from a higher place than we were in at the last cycle.

During the dot-bomb OpenOffice and Firefox were not mass market phenomena, Wikipedia was barely a gleam in Jimmy Wales' eye, and Mark Shuttleworth was just another Internet entrepreneur who had gotten out just in time.

Now is the time for dreaming new dreams, bigger dreams, and building them in our virtual garages. Those whose imaginations fly highest will go furthest on the next turn of the wheel. This is, in fact, our period of greatest opportunity, because we have time to dream big dreams and explore them.

I like Matt Asay and hope he's one of those high-flyers on the next spin of the wheel. Just remember, no whinging.

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