Open Marketing and the Ethics of Sharing

Zend recently decided to not call themselves the creators of PHP anymore. This change in Zend’s marketing has been long overdue. It caused friction with some PHP core developers over the past years that spread into the PHP community.

Others also make mistakes

It is not that Zend is the only company in the Open Source market that made some marketing mistakes in the past. MySQL for example had their CTO Monty Widenius talk fancier then usual in an internally conducted interview and the answers did not sound like he really said them. It made known members of the MySQL community wonder who kidnapped Monty.

Sex sells?

To some marketing experts, the Open Source community might seem like a mine-field with many traps, because there are just too many critical thinkers in the community. It is so because they don’t fully understand the ethics of sharing.

Marketing and ethics – how does that go together? Isn’t marketing based on emotions and instincts? Catching you with the “sex sells” trick? Open Marketing is different – yet still emotional.

Have a lot of fun

Open Marketing addresses the intellect, because in Open Source it’s all about transparency: transparent software (code), transparent collaboration (mailinglists), transparent deficiency (bugs), …

Open Marketing also addresses emotions, because it’s fun. After your Linux installation, you read “Have a lot of fun”. Open Source developers identify with what they do, because they believe in their skills, the good work of the team, the value of sharing. They care about their work and the results – isn’t that emotional?

Hubs and innovation

Intellect and emotions come together in the ethics of sharing. It’s supporters believe that they can still gain although sharing, or better: they gain because they share. The more you share, the more you become the center of communication flows in the Open Source community. Speaking in terms of communication theory, you become a hub in a communication network.

What does that have to do with Open Marketing? It means that the correct marketing is vital to an Open Source company because it needs to be one of the main hubs in the communication flow of the Open Source community it targets at. Otherwise, the company will slowly loose it’s innovative power and market share respectively.

Proprietary vs. Open Marketing

The ethic of sharing is not so much about naive persons longing to be good, instead it is at the heart of the Open Source business, it is egoistic as well as altruistic at once, intellectual and emotional, and the basis for making money.

To summarize: Open Marketing is just as “copyleft” to the traditional marketing, as the GPL is to proprietary software licensing. It is not about illusions, it is about realities. In that sense, Zend just fixed a bug in their marketing and move from a sometimes proprietary style marketingto a better open marketing. Welcome back to reality!

The Secretary to the Cathedral's Friends Resigned

If the company MySQL is the cathedral in the bazaar, then Zak Greant was the secretary to the cathedral’s friends – he recently resigned.

His official title was “Community Advocate”. Once, he described his work to me like this: “Imagine MySQL AB as a person that acts in a social environment, then me and David Axmark take care that this person behaves properly in the Open Source community and is accepted within the group.” The last 2 years, Zak was mostly concerned with the licensing issues that arouse when the MySQL client library became GPLed.

Zak’s two main concerns were – not only concerning the licensing issues – to fully understand the Open Source community, not only that of the MySQL database, and to make the community understand the company MySQL, the reasoning behind their actions. I have attended several of Zak’s talks at conferences and it always amazed me, how well he tried to balance out the interests of the company and the community. I write “tried”, because not all interests could be satisfied, as some of them have a conflicting nature.

It was Zak’s respectful behaviour towards anyone contacting him that made him a person as well respected by the community. His respect for others is deeply rooted in his professional approach and work ethics as well as his believe in the principles of the Open Source community and good social behaviour in general.

I am very much looking forward to see what he will be doing in the future and who will hire him. For MySQL, it must be hard to find someone as committed to the job as Zak was, also someone as eloquently acting within the community. MySQL is loosing a skilled and experienced secretary for the cathedral’s friends – but I am pretty sure, that Zak will stay with the friends of the cathedral.

MySQL FLOSS License Exception Discussed at OSI plus Community Crisis Management Analysed

A substantial thread discussing the MySQL FLOSS License Exception has evolved on the mailinglist of the Open Source Initiative.

Some quotes:

Essentially, they’re trying to retrofit via a licence exception some of the licence semantics of LGPL. (Rick Moen)

As for the MySQL License Exception, I believe its interpretation of the effects of the GPL, and its description of what happens when you create *collective works* with MySQL and other open source software, is accurate. I also happen to believe that this “Exception” doesn’t need to be an exception at all, because that’s how the GPL should be interpreted anyway. “Independent and separate works” can never be forced under the GPL if they are not *derivative works* of GPL programs. The MySQL folks have tried to eliminate confusion about their licenses by stating in their own words what the GPL and LGPL really do anyway. (Lawrence Rosen, OSI)

In way of a brief update, the exception is currently being reviewed by our lawyers and then should be going through to our CEO for approval. (Zak Greant, MySQL)

Actually, v0.2 of the exception will apply to both client and server. (Zak Greant, MySQL)

It is interesting to see how MySQL has made its way out of the PHP community when switching the client code to GPL by introducing and openly discussing the license exception. I think it would be appropriate to label it “community crisis management”, a new discipline for future business consultants in the FLOSS market 🙂

Essentially, the trick that did it is common-place: once there is a conflict, only a pro-active strategy can re-ensure trust between the involved parties. No doubts, that MySQL has been late to actively seek for a solution with the PHP devs in the beginning. I guess that the delay is correlated with the experiences that MySQL made in the lawsuite with NuSphere, because MySQL had to thoroughly think through all the potential implications of a license exception to never let happen the NuSphere problem again. Given that in the future even bigger players (only an oracle can tell who…) could use wholes in the license exception to damage MySQL, one can understand the still very careful proceeding.

Open Source Business Models: "Dual Licensing" and "Quid Pro Quo" Explained

For anyone wondering, how the “Dual Licensing” business model of MySQL works, they have briefly explained it in a news posting:

As second-generation open source vendors, MySQL AB, Sleepycat Software and Trolltech AS make the majority of their revenue from selling software licenses. This license-based business model offers higher margins than services-based businesses. Historically, most open source companies have tried to make money by selling services and support.

The guiding principle behind dual licensing is “quid pro quo,” or a fair exchange. Under this model, vendors offer their products under both an open source license and a commercial license. This allows open source projects to use the software at no cost, which contributes to widespread use and testing of the software and the fast growth of a large installed user base. Companies redistributing the software as part of commercial products can also get the benefits of the open source software by purchasing a commercial license, which releases them from requirements to publish their source code. Commercially-licensed customers generate revenue for the open source vendors, which contributes to the rapid development of high-quality software.

I thought about the term “fair exchange” and came to the conclusion that the Dual Licensing business model is based on three crucial factors: knowledge, time, money.

This means: If you’re a FOSS software developer, you might have a basic understanding of which licenses are compatible and which are not. If you’re a software developer in a company that has never dealt with FOSS licensing issues but would like to use MySQL for example, you could either consult one or more lawyers that analyse the situation for you. The other option would be to pay the costs for a commercial MySQL license, which are marginal compared to what the lawyers would charge.

Seen from that perspective, the Dual Licensing model is fair in terms of how much the software user knows about the topic: If you do not have money, but time to investigate and inform yourself about FOSS licensing and you produce FOSS software yourself, you can do your work without any financial burdon. On the other hand, if you have money and you’re short on time analysing the whole issue, simply pay the fee for a commercial license.

The revenue of companies like MySQL is based on the three crucial factors “knowledge”, “time”, “money”. Dual Licensing shows that software companies who in fact produce true knowledge goods, can make money based on these factors and behave fair as well as profitable in a knowledge economy. It is also important to understand that there are two kinds of revenue they make: financial revenue from commercial licenses and revenue in terms of knowledge and lower development costs. The later is what MySQL gets back from a FOSS community that might not buy commercial licenses, but do testing, bug fixing, APIs, etc.

In a knowledge economy, “knowledge” is a good that gains value the more you have of it – other then the industrial economy, where goods usually loose value if the market is saturated. The Dual Licensing business model somehow plays industrial if you want to combine FOSS software with non-FOSS software, i.e. if you do not adhere to the standards of a community of open knowledge transfer. Then you will have to pay for the software aka knowledge good, just as if it were a car. On the other hand, if you are part of the open knowledge transfer aka a free community (“free” as in “freedom of speach”), you can use for example a GPLed software for free (“free” like in “free lunch”).