Open source chamber of commerce

July 2, 2007 § Leave a comment

The open source chamber of commerce is one of the few ideas really sticking with me from last weekend’s Open Cities Camp.

The concept is simple: create an association to network and promote open source businesses in Toronto (or wherever you live). The members could be big (Google) or small (the Linux Caffe), focused explicitly on open source (a Linux support company) or just use open source (a phone company or a bank), work on software (Mozilla) or on other kinds of ‘open’ (why doesn’t have a Toronto office?). The common thread would be that open source plays a central role in the work of all these companies.


Why? To focus and build buzz around the significant volume of open source activity that is quietly (and disconnectedly) happening in Toronto. The number of companies, projects and research labs focused on open source is growing in this city, yet they are spread out a thousand nooks and crannies. There is no sense of community, no sense of anything bigger. Of course, that’s totally okay on one level. No need to invent community, especially when most people are tapped in globally. However, there is another level where staying disconnected locally represents a missed opportunity to make Toronto a better place to work on open source.

This ‘make Toronto a better place to do open source’ impulse was the thing that originally got me talking about open cities in the first place. The event last week had people taking the idea in all sorts of crazy and fun directions. Yet my interest in open cities still centres around the idea that there is a huge economic and cultural opportunity around becoming a hub for open source business, research and culture, and that a number of cities around the world will soon start actively wooing projects and companies in this space. We already see this in other industry sectors, with cities actively trying to attract and cluster businesses in green energy, biotech and so on. Why not do this with open source? And why not Toronto?

Of course, there are a number of good answers to ‘why not Toronto?’ Our colleges and universities focus very little on open source (with the exception of CDOT at Seneca). There are no big name open source or open content companies headquartered here. And, the idea that open source represents a huge economic development opportunity – or even an interesting topic of conversation – is totally off the City of Toronto radar. We don’t have a buzz or critical mass around ‘open’.

Or, at least, we didn’t. The buzz factor is slowly starting to increase. CDOT’s annual Seneca at York open source conference is building a name internationally. Open cities made a connection and got some attention from 70 people spending a day talking about how ‘open’ impacts their work. Places like the Centre for Social Innovation and SIG@Mars are talking about open source as a potential driver of social invention and innovation. We’re building some buzz, slowly.

The Toronto Open Source Chamber of Commerce (or whatever it wants to be called) could be one way to amp up this buzz, and to engage business more actively in promoting Toronto as a good place to work on open source. Getting it started – and making it useful – wouldn’t be hard. The Chamber of Commerce could: convene a few open source focused barcamps; run occasional networking breakfasts / lectures when key open source people are in town; build volunteer teams to use open source to help local charities. It could start small, and grow if there is traction. The only way to find out is to try.

PS.  David Eaves and I are thinking about doing a session on the Open Source Chamber of Commerce at the Seneca FSOSS conference in October. Ping us or comment here if you are interested in being involved.

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