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Open source parties like it's 1999

The same problems which make buying Web 2.0 more like buying water than land also operate in open source. Except that while it's customers who will walk away in the former area, it's developers who can walk away in the latter.

Prince Rogers Nelson from Bryant.edu
Like 1984, 1999 is a once unimaginable future which now evokes a specific nostalgia.

For the former, blame George Orwell. For the latter, blame open source hero Prince Rogers Nelson.

Remember that kerfluffle about Prince changing his name to this ridiculous symbol in 1993, then changing it back again in 2000? It was done so he could get back control of his musical source code. The man won a Webby lifetime achievement award in 2006.

His 1990 dance hit "1999" is now the nostalgic beat I think of whenever talk turns to the dot-bomb, to irrational exuberance, to the boom before the bust. "Two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time." (Capitalize the last word and you have the AOL deal, which went down January 10, 2000.)

Question is, are we headed for the last call at the open source disco? The New York Times thinks so. They got a distinct whiff of a new bubble at Tim O'Reilly's Web 2.0 Summit this week.

There's a false assumption in both the Web 2.0 and open source investment space which is that you can buy the market. One would think the moves of millions from MySpace to Facebook might dampen that enthusiasm, but apparently not.

The same problems which make buying Web 2.0 more like buying water than land also operate in open source. Except that while it's customers who will walk away in the former area, it's developers who can walk away in the latter.

When you buy an open source company, you're really buying talent and relationships. The problems Red Hat has had getting value from JBOSS attest to this fact. Red Hat is one of the best-run outfits in this space. If they have trouble getting value from acquisitions, what does that say about Oracle or Microsoft's chances of success?

Just look at this set of bookmarking links I grabbed off another site.  Nearly 40 outfits hoping to use social networking and bookmarking to impose order on people's news surfing. Buy one, anger the users, and they have choices, lots of choices.

The same thing is true for open source developers. Buy a project, anger the developers, and they'll take the code somewhere else. They were in their basements before, they can go back to their basements, and they'll show you, brother.

The point here is you have to be careful. Any acquisition is just the start of the deal. And learn the lesson of Prince. Keep the talent happy.