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September 26, 2007

Flattener #4: “Uploading”

Filed under: Uncategorized — yoddha @ 8:17 pm

Now who has created Apache Web Server for me? Friedman answers this question in explaining the power of the open source community. He extends this thought be giving the examples of blogging, wikipedia, podcasting and Amazon, various communities that contribute to the common cause. At the same time, Friedman puts an example of how this medium is being misused by negative elements of society as well.

This wave started when Bit Torrent popularized the idea of sharing the music over internet. Today, we have many open source communities which can be divided into two groups:

* Intellectual Commons Community: Where credit has to go to creator each time it is worked upon.
* Free Software: Where the only condition is that the software remains free and open.

Why do people contribute? To enjoy the feeling of having discovered something, to earn reputation, to earn peer review and to enjoy fighting with giants such as Microsoft and IBM.

Friedman comes back to the question: Who worked on this Apache Web Server that anyone can download freely and host a website? He dates back the start of this product to the mid 1990s when a web server was worked upon by a research organization in such a way that anybody can access the code and apply patches to it after the organization’s review. As the number of patches increased, a team of such open source workers collaborated and formed a product called ‘Apache’ web server. This product was named ‘Apache’ after the Apache tribe that surrendered to the oncoming US government after fighting till end. This product had to fight with big companies too. Also, it sound like ‘APAtCHy’ server, which was close to how it originated.

The product worked so well that the world’s biggest computer company, IBM, decided to take back its product and provide backing to this open source product. While IBM helped Apache in organizing its community, IBM could use this product and provide its own commercial product with customized services built on top of this freely available product.

Another example of popularity of this open-source product is Linux OS which was built by Linus Torvalds. While this is a free product even today, Novell Software Company is the biggest distributor of the commercial product that provides custom services. This has come to be known as ‘blended model’ of open source product. Here, a company like Red Hat can not sell ‘Linux’. But it can build services around this free product and then sell. Such a company thus contributes to the open community that builds this product.

Another reason for why big corporates contribute to such products is that this helps them in weakening their rivals. This is the reason why IBM supports Linux. This is the reason why Sun Microsystems support OpenOffice.org.

But that’s not the complete picture, as explained by Microsoft. While the open source community helps bringing innovation to the product, MS thinks that a specific solution is what businesses require today and only organized companies such as Microsoft can do that. Moreover, the money it earns from selling such products is used by it to do further R&D and bring more innovation.

Looking at both points of view, Friedman summarizes that we definitely need community-developed software because of the breakthroughs it brings to the industry. In the future, we will see traditional commercial softwares such as SAP, Business rent-a-software from Salesforce.com and free softwares such as Linux.

Through a gold mining example, Friedman explains how this community work has not only brought changes in software industry but also in every aspect of life. We have bloggers as citizen journalists today. We have podcasters as music creators today. Wikipedia has replaced all other forms of encyclopedias. All these are examples of how community develops the solutions. In the future, we will see Wikibooks, Wikinews, Wikispecies and so on.

Yes, no one can guarantee that the information uploaded will always be true and for the right purpose, but uploading has led to flattening of the world where any one can volunteer and become a contributor.

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