Open Source: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

It is always so validating when accomplished, smart people express thoughts about a topic that are 100% in line with your own. Mitch Kapor posted about this question: “Does the open source model apply beyond software?”

For the last two years I’ve been observing and thinking about what’s going on with people and organizations trying to figure out how to embrace (or just deal with) Open Source as a business model. Besides the obvious model (software) that we all know about, two key examples of an atypical approach to “open sourcing” value have been these most recently visible examples:

  1. MIT Open CourseWare initiative
  2. Slashdot | Open Source Biology Initiative

When I think of the power of the open source model and the application of network effects providing focus, energy and momentum behind areas that have been “open sourced”, I become even more enthused about this paradigm shift.

In a strange sort of way and as I implied in one of my earlier posts entitled, “The Internet as our Collective Consciousness”, Slashdot is a great example of simply providing a forum for really smart, opinionated, propellerheads to learn about and weigh in on the hot geek topic of the moment. I like to think about Slashdot as “open source conversations”. I couldn’t find the post on Slashdot, but some time ago a Dad who had a handicapped son posted a plea to the Slashdot community describing his son’s physical challenge and asking for pointers to web sites and thoughts about adaptive technologies for his little guy.

The explosion of help and recommendations still sends shivers up my spine. Even I learned a lot about what’s available in adaptive technologies and approaches by reading opinions and looking at the web sites recommended by Slashdotters — and the Dad was *really* grateful for all the energy and knowledge provided to him.

This is just one small example, but imagine if this kind of collective energy is focused on an open source initiative of any kind? If done right, the value to everyone of the open source model for software, biology, books, movies, et al, would be proportional to the level of participation amplified by the network called the internet. Instead of everyone making a buck in the process, everyone receives value from which they can leverage for knowledge or other purposes.

In a letter, written by Sir Isaac Newton to fellow scientist Robert Hooke on February, 5th, 1676, Newton modestly claimed that his success had been built on the achievements of others:

“If I have seen further than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Open source models (for more than just software) hold the promise of letting the world stand on the shoulders of giants and leverage each other and one another’s knowledge in new and profound ways..

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.