Benefits of a commercial open source arm

Benefits of a commercial open source arm

Summary: Commercial arms help open source projects meet this competition, at the same time they provide a business model which feeds the lead developers. It's not an appropriation from the commons at all.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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Acquia logoOne of my great Eurofriends linked me to his 2009 predictions piece over the holidays, noting that companies like Acquia are "appropriating returns from the commons."

This may be one of the great misunderstandings of the open source era, and a big part of the FOSS-open source split.

Commercial open source, some think, does indeed  "appropriate returns from the commons." I, on the other hand, believe such operations are a net benefit to the commons.

Let me offer the example of Acquia, the commercial arm for Drupal, because I have both personal experience and news to bring to bear.

The experience came four years ago. I was asked to help launch an open source site for politics. I recommended Drupal for its scalability, but the company failed, in part because we could not develop the site quickly enough.

Since Drupal.org only provided a directory of possible assistance, we wound up dealing with an Indian outsourcer my partner was familiar with.

Their claim of expertise was false. I spent months trying to explain what we needed, and each iteration of the software grew worse. We finally got things rolling after another consultant turned us on to the new, stable Drupal code base.

By then it was too late. The business model was flawed in any case. I wound up blogging about politics, reading political blogs and summarizing their messages, but traffic was never more than a trickle, and interactivity was virtually nil.

Should I get another opportunity, I will know more of what to do. I'll be able to get the help I need through Acquia. I'll pay for it, but I will have an effective site in a short period of time, and technical management will be done by techies, not journalists.

There's a second benefit to the commercial model, add-ons. An example is Kaltura. This makes any Drupal site immediately video-capable. (There are also versions for other systems.)

A commercial arm retains a project's market share, and its development momentum, so that add-ons gravitate toward it. I am certain that Drupal sites launched in 2009 will be light years ahead of those from four years ago.

They have to be, because much has happened since 2005. It's no longer enough to support blogs, or diaries, or to do them in a scaled manner. Now you have to support a host of other files, and social networking functions.

A CMS system, like any system, must continually progress to stay relevant. Commercial arms help open source projects meet this competition, at the same time they provide a business model which feeds the lead developers.

It's not an appropriation from the commons at all.

Topic: Open Source

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8 comments
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  • Might you refer to this business model...

    ... as open source of some software as a strategy for expense reduction, while the company emphasizes sale of proprietary products?

    Or am I misreading your description?
    Anton Philidor
    • Never thought I'd see the day.

      You got it right Anton. Companies can mix and match anyway they want with Open Source. It only requires a thorough understanding of Open Source. You know, like Cisco didn't.
      kozmcrae
  • I don't get it

    Did yu use Linux in that solution?
    If not, there is no OSS there.
    Linux Geek
  • RE: Benefits of a commercial open source arm

    You missed the boat with the Drupal example. The problem wasn't open source, it was using an untested outsourcer. You get what you pay for and stories like this are many. Many stable open source projects actually have more and better development/installation/customization support options than BIG NAME proprietary software that costs you twice - for the license, then for development/installation/customization.
    opensourceadvocate
  • RE: Benefits of a commercial open source arm

    The parallels between companies like Red Hat and Conical (for linux) and companies like Atomattic (for wordpress) and Aquia (for drupal) is pretty powerful.

    While I think you're right, in most of what your saying, there are some ins and outs of the analogies that I think are rather instructive. Red Hat provides support to users of Linux and contributes to the linux code base, and will train/certify your system administrator, but if you need a sys admin, don't call red hat (I think.)

    Same with Aquia. They'll provide documentation, they contribute back to the Drupal code base, they'll provide support, training, and services. If you're looking for someone, they'll help you find them, but they' won't build your site for you. Which is ok, I think the Drupal community will certainly benefit from this kind of high-level service provider, but there are lots of commercial shops that provide Drupal services and leadership in the Drupal community. (Which in the above analogy is like contracting linux sysadmins). Companies like Lullabot, Palintir, and Trellon (disclosure: my employer.) Aquia doesn't change that.
    skleinman
  • "Acquia, commercial arm of Drupal" ???

    Don't see any Acquia submitted corrections of that hugely erroneous statement.
    sslgvt0
  • RE: Benefits of a commercial open source arm

    Ciao Dana,

    I appreciated you mentioning my blog, and I wish to clarify what I and others meant for "appropriating returns from the commons".

    Academic researcher, like Linus Dahlander <http://opensource.mit.edu/papers/dahlander2.pdf> explore how firms
    appropriate returns - WITHOUT exclusively appropriating - from innovations that are created outside the boundaries of firms and
    in the public domain using the case of OSS.

    Open source companies look into all possible ways of knowledge protection to maximize returns, frequently not considering code secrecy as an option (even if this seems changing). Some firms rely on secrecy
    keeping expertise within the boundary of the firm, but employees can still move to another company, though.

    What makes harder to appropriating returns from knowledge is that knowledge is non-rivalrous in its usage, it is hard to transfer or replicate. Considering that building market presence and reputation cost anyway, starting from a community-led open source project can reduce some risks. On the other side cooperating with open source stakeholders involved in the resource development maybe not an easy game to play.

    Acquia, taking advantage of the absence of a Corporate actor, is developing and selling new product and services, but it is definitely not competing with web agencies delivering websites running on Drupal, like CivicAction and many others.
    galoppini
  • RE: Benefits of a commercial open source arm

    They have to be, because much has happened since 2005. Its no longer enough to support blogs, or diaries, or to do them in a scaled manner. Now you have to support a host of other files, and social networking functions.<a href="http://ipadbagblog.com/"><font color="white"> k</font></a>
    zakkiromi