Fights About Information Flows in Companies Switching to Open Source

I am a big fan of Clay Shirky. He presented “It’s not information overload. It’s filture failure.” at Web 2.0 Expo NY last year – a fabulous speech you should not miss:

Shirky’s talk made Matt Asay think about how filture failure applies to Open Source which again made me realize just how true Shirky’s call for a “mental shift” in organizations applies to companies switching from a proprietary to an Open Source business model.

Such companies face a cultural change related to what Shirky calls “the fight about information flows and access to it”. The reason being that “the Internet allows large systems that are freerider-tolerant” in contrast to the offline-world where “small groups defend theirselves against freeriders”. Proprietary companies is what I’d call a “small group” regarding their mentality, no matter how many employees they actually have. Proprietary software vendors constantly strive to defend themselves against freeriders e.g. with patents and non-permissive licenses. Their partner companies benefit from being a partner because they have better access to information provided by the proprietary ISV.

Now think of a proprietary company leaning towards a FOSS business model, opening up their code and consequently also their communications. This means a lot of change, because communicating about Open Source products is essentially about communicating on the Web, where – as Shirky pointed out – large systems can evolve that are freerider-tolerant. And of course every Open Source vendor wants to have a large community. So, suddenly the gates are open and information is supposed to flow much more freely between the former proprietary software vendor and its community, which just as well includes partner companies.

In such a situation, communication tactics of employees and partner companies will have to change dramatically to sustain a successful Open Source business environment.

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