The future of open: what’s on your map?

February 10, 2009 § 15 Comments

On Saturday, I gave a keynote at FOSDEM called Free. Open. Future? My goal was to encourage people think of free and open as concepts that extend beyond software, and to spark a conversation about the ideas / design frameworks / mental maps we’ll need to make sure complex spaces like mobile and messaging are open in the future.  The slides are here:

If you don’t feel like flipping through the slides, the basic line of reasoning goes something like this:

  1. Free software and open source have been successful in part because there is a clear mental map and values. RMSfour freedoms — use, study, modify, copy — and similar ideas make up this map.
  2. The mental map that guided free software has also contributed to the creation of an open web. Transparency (study) and remixability (modify) are particularly critical to the web feeling and being open, and have started to bleed into more than just the code that makes up web pages but also into how regular users experience the web when they remix content and reconfigure their online tools.
  3. The challenges we’re about to face in coming years are complex, and it’s clear we will need more than just use / study / modify / copy to chart our future course. If you just look at mobile, we need to figure out what ‘open’ means not only at the hardware and software level, but also in cloud services, carrier pricing, end user rights over their devices. There is a great deal to sort through if we want to get anywhere close to the success we’ve had with free software and the open web.

All of this ends up with a question: what new ideas can we add to our mental maps to make sure we can take free and open even further? Similar to the mobile scenario above, the current state of online shows why this question matters. David Ascher pointed out in his FOSEDM talk that things like Facebook and Twitter now make up a huge percentage our online conversations. Yet they are mostly closed and walled off, much more so than standardized email. If we want messaging to be a part of the open internet we’re building for the future, we need some sort of shared (but probably quite rough) mental map that includes criteria to answer ‘is this approach toonline  messaging open?’ Without this, it’s hard to build innovative products will win win in the marketplace, which is critical to ensuring that ‘open’ wins. The same is true for spaces like mobile and cloud computing.

I gave a couple of quickly hacked together ideas on what I think our future maps need to include, and listed them near the end of my slides:

  • Strong values, freedom beyond just code
  • Great free software, that people love to use
  • Users as hackers, anyone can bend anything

These aren’t necessarily the most important ideas, except for maybe the last one about ‘users as hackers’ — that’s critical to the future of open innovation. And there are definitely places like the Mozilla Manifesto that have key elements for the mental map we need. However, my main goal here was really just to spark a conversation.

And, I must say, I failed dismally at that goal. One question from the floor, and it was off topic. Some good comments from Mozilla people afterwars. But the conversation I wanted.

On the plane to Munich, I asked a fellow FOSDEMer about this — someone who works in big car company and also attends Chaos Computer Club every year.  I figured he’d have a good perspective. His response: “You made some inroads. Ideas like these take time to settle in, and make cracks. But you also need a broader audience. Ask more people.”

Funnily enough, simply throwing my slides online yesterday sparked a few replies. One about the importance of open innovation. And another about the value that comes from ‘acting’ online, simply being a contributor to the openness of the web by posting content. Interesting.

So, taking my flightmate’s advice, this post is another chance for people to answer: what’s on your map? What are the critical ideas that will help us succeed with free and open in the future? If you think these are interesting questions, comment away.

§ 15 Responses to The future of open: what’s on your map?

  • John Britton says:

    Hey Mark,

    Looks like it was an interesting keynote, I’ll keep my eye out for the video.

    What’s on my map?

    Most importantly there’s the <a href=”http://www.peer2peeruniversity.orgPeer 2 Peer University. I’m also working with my university to publish OER’s as part of the OCWC. Then of course there’s Open Everything, to get people talking about open and to inspire them to make things happen.

    An interesting observation I’ve made is that most people (techies and non-techies alike) most often agree that open is good, but they still continue to use closed platforms. Why?, because the alternative is often inferior and the benefits of open platforms are often not apparent until there is widespread adoption. My conclusion is along the lines of what Alvin Toffler writes in “Future Shock”: we need to encourage people to think ahead and to study the future.

  • johndbritton says:

    (fixed the links in this comment)
    Hey Mark,

    Looks like it was an interesting keynote, I’ll keep my eye out for the video.

    What’s on my map?

    Most importantly there’s the Peer 2 Peer University. I’m also working with my university to publish OER’s as part of the OCWC. Then of course there’s Open Everything, to get people talking about open and to inspire them to make things happen.

    An interesting observation I’ve made is that most people (techies and non-techies alike) most often agree that open is good, but they still continue to use closed platforms. Why?, because the alternative is often inferior and the benefits of open platforms are often not apparent until there is widespread adoption. My conclusion is along the lines of what Alvin Toffler writes in “Future Shock”: we need to encourage people to think ahead and to study the future.

  • Eyal says:

    For me, one critical idea is the the connection between one free and open project to another.
    Today if two projects (or areas) are in the makings, one will know the other by conventional ways (media, Google search etc.).
    We should have a way to tag projects (much like semantic web or XML) so they could know of each other and that we can have a mapping of different projects, and eventually this would be a living map of the world (or at least everything on the web which is ever getting closer to the real world).

    We should always opt for “study, copy, modify, share” by computers when it’s possible, allowing us to think/work on even greater things. This will bring free and open to a new level.

    At the personal level, the acknowledgment that you are part of something big aiming to do good will be more accessible to people. The visibility of yourself as a change maker will aspire people to take action.

    Hope I wasn’t too science fictiony,

    Eyal

  • Hi Mark. Two things. One, I think one of the most interesting areas for MoFo is simply mapping the terrain of “Open”. Open is a great rubric but it is not an inherent virtue. Unpacking the places where open is essential and where it is may even be dangerous e.g. privacy, security, etc would make the OpenWeb an even more convincing proposition.
    Second, working on tools that facilitate meaningful participation while inhibiting or at least re-directing misuse would be a very powerful thing to do. Given recent successes AND failures of public participation tools it would be interesting to get involved in improving them.

  • Pascal says:

    Mark,

    you raise an important point here – one which I feel very strongly about in my particular area of interest: Open Innovation. The mere concept of Open Innovation (as developed by Eric von Hippel at MIT) is in my eyes paramount to sustainable increasing social welfare – especially if we finally want to get over the larger issues we face today with a clear and huge divide between first, second and third world.

    When we look at the Open Innovation landscape today, most of the stuff you see is not open at all – it’s commercial entities buying and selling IP (see P&G Connect for example). Yet when you look at the worldwide R&D in software, the latest figures indicate that already 50% of global R&D is done in Open Source – creating huge amounts of freely accessible intellectual property (actually intellectual commons) and in turn creating a tremendously powerful lever to increase social welfare (without geographic boundaries).

    Now imagine we manage to bridge the gap and bring the values (the map as you pointed out in your post) to other areas, not only software. It would truly make this world a better place.

    So – in conclusion – I completely agree with your fellow FOSDEM attendee: We need to open the discussion, we need to carry the torch of Open Source into other areas of life and business and we need to have a much more diverse audience weight into the discussion.

  • Brian King says:

    Mark,

    I suspect the lack of questions at the talk was less about the talk and more about a) it being the first session and folks still settling in, and b) the size of the auditorium. I think this conversation lends itself to a more intimate setting, excepting online of course.

    What’s on my map?

    – I’d like to see people talking and pushing for more openness to their peers, bosses, and others in their circle. From a developer perspective, hacking on OSS projects in your free time is noble, but we need to go further and push our employers and clients to be more open.

    – Make OSS more innovative. I’m not saying it is not right now, but many times it has been shown the design by committee moves slow. We need to break down some processes and invent new ones to make things move faster.

  • Linda Rogers says:

    I am an avid Second Life participant because of the virtual reality platforms opportunity for users to create their own content, environments.

    I am involved in hosting virtual live-streamed concerts in Second Life and in the process of doing that I have seen a real hunger for people to create their own entertainments again. People are sitting around virtual campfires and telling each other stories, and singer songwriters are picking up real and virtual guitars and sharing tunes with a purpose gathered group of friends.

  • karienbez says:

    Hi Mark,

    I’d add open philanthropy, as well as linking open source and social and economic development.

    There is much potential overlap (and opportunity to learn) between them in:
    – wanting to achieve objectives through broad participation (use + open) and the sharing (make available + study), modification and replication (copy) of ideas, models and methodologies;
    – having some core funding and some reliance on volunteers (and all that that entails); and
    – a willingness to let others in on what they are doing, based on a believe that it will strengthen it.

  • […] by msurman: The future of open: what’s on your map? […]

  • Amitanshu Gour says:

    Open Medicine can be a new concept to fight patents which make medicines costlier especially life saving medicines and give control to just a couple of big pharmaceutical companies which sell those medicines.The entire make-up including chemical compounds,structure,items used and the method of making these medicines should be open for anyone to use,copy,modify,redistribute similar to those applied by the Free Software Community.

  • Natanael L says:

    We should promote altruism and show people what they can gain if everybody share their ideas and think of it as “everybody’s”.

    The value of Intellectual Commons is superior to the value of Intellectual Property – and we need to prove it.

    As said before – patents are an issue as well. There are already projects related to fighting patents, but I want a project were patent holders can license their patents under a GPL/Creative Commons-like license for everybody’s sake.

    We should promote sharing in everything!

  • Natanael L says:

    (Posting this to get email updates)

  • Amitanshu Gour says:

    As I had posted in my earlier message on this message board,Open Medicine can be one of the ways to ensure that the Open Source Philosophy can be extended beyond Free Software and can enormously benefit society at large and bring them closer to this design approach of product and content development making them a part of this vibrant community.But along with it I believe that an Open Source Economic Model,one in which copyrights and patents are done away with completely would be a better way to ensure that no product,idea,content or any creative work dies out because of propriety and copyright restrictions.Under such a model, more than the product the concentration should be laid out on the process of community participation and peer production on all forms of content whatsoever.One thing I generally do not prefer is the proliferation of Open Source Licenses as it impinges on the very concept of a truly universal open source model. I believe that there should be just one Open Source License Agreement which should govern all forms of peer production and the right to use,copy,modify,redistribute whether it be in Software Development or in any other product or content development.Such a copyleft License should be copyrighted to everyone who make use of the license whether it be the user or the developer and any modification within the license should meet the tacit approval of all copyright holders of this license thereby meaning everyone who is out there,this would ensure that such an Open Source license is not purged or changed to meet demands levied time and again by propriety competitors and put in trust in the users as well as the developers.Such an agreement should be made as a cornerstone to defend Open Source philosophy and carry it to domains other than Free Software.For this I would be starting a group where we can discuss such a system and hope to kick-start something along this line.I would be posting a link shortly and hope all those who are interested in this idea of mine would join up to help me execute this idea.

  • Amitanshu Gour says:

    Ok here’s the link to the group I have started to discuss the idea of an Open Source Economic Model and copyleft licensing agreement covering all forms of content about which I had posted a message on this message board earlier,it’s on facebook so hope you have a facebook account – http://www.facebook.com/groups/create.php?customize&gid=63847841348#/group.php?gid=63847841348

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