Category Archives: kmd2004

Back to KMD2004: competitive forces

(This is not even a draft - more like table-napkin scribblings for my article for a class I'm taking)

Although open source can greatly help developers advance in their careers and provide low-cost, custom solutions for local markets, other factors discourage local developers from gaining open source experience.

First among these factors is the lack of time. Most open source developers are employed by software companies. In a software industry where the benefits of open source are not clearly recognized, developers are unlikely to have the leisure time to experiment with open source.

Second, language may pose a significant barrier for local developers. Local developers who are not comfortable with English may find it difficult to participate in most online communities, where English is used as a common language.

Third, customers may need to be educated about the benefits and risks of open source. Customers may prefer the brand name of an established proprietary solution, or may resist change. Customers who have read about open source may be too optimistic about the benefits it can offer, only to be burned. Developers must carefully manage expectations as they sell solutions to their customers.

Lastly, some actors actively work against the adoption of open source. This is discussed in the next section.

Open source solutions can directly cut into the revenue stream of proprietary software developers and distributors. Some proprietary software vendors adapt by offering open source products. Other vendors attempt to discourage open source adoption through aggressive discounts of closed source software, marketing campaigns, and even anti-open-source articles and advertising.

Use trackers enforce the copyright of proprietary software products by imposing heavy fines on organizations found to violate the licence, but do not educate users about more affordable open source alternatives. This has the effect of stifling the local IT industry due to higher capital requirements. Use trackers can also harass companies that develop with open source projects through audits and other actions.

Proprietary software companies and use trackers such as the Business Software Alliance also exert a powerful influence on the very frame of the controversy. The metaphors chosen and promoted by these organizations are based on physical property and use words such as theft and piracy. Open source advocates argue that the near-zero cost of duplication and distribution of software makes it fundamentally different from physical goods. Because proprietary software companies have successfully framed the debate on their terms and laws and public understanding reflect these changes, open source advocates have a more difficult time arguing the benefits or even the legality of their work.

Proprietary software producers can also weaken support for open source through litigation. Patent disputes can scare developers and consumers away from contested software, or even open source in general. Patent disputes generally play out on the global stage, but affect the public perception at the local level as well.

The open source license is a controversial tool. Different actors within the network attempt to align other actors according to their goals, and how these actors resist the attempts of other actors.

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Strengthening their network

(This is not even a draft - more like table-napkin scribblings for my article for a class I'm taking)

Developers who go into open source can develop or strengthen their connections to other actors in the network.

  • Developers who can offer more low-cost solutions adapted to the local market become more relevant to local IT consumers.
  • Developers with open source experience and enhanced skills become more relevant to employers and colleagues.
  • Developers often turn to user groups for help with open source projects. These communities span geographic boundaries.
  • Developers can improve their standing in the community by asking questions in an intelligent manner and helping other users with their questions.
  • Developers can further improve their standing in the community by contributing code, documentation, or other resources. In this way, they can create a personal brand, and may even connect with potential employers in other countries.
  • Developers can also participate in local open source communities. This allows them to share local challenges and even take on larger projects. Open source use and development provides them with an opportunity to strengthen their connection with other local developers.
  • A strong local community of developers contributes to a national brand and perceptions of a strong IT talent pool, which is important for attracting international investments and for encouraging the growth of the local IT industry.

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Open source acting on developers

(This is not even a draft - more like table-napkin scribblings for my article for a class I'm taking)

So how does open source change the picture?

Open source acts on local developers by making it possible for them to create low-cost high-value-add customized IT solutions for local consumers or even the export market. Here's how it works.

The local audience wants low-cost customized IT solutions. Developers don't really have that option with closed-source software, which means there's an underserved local market. This provides the economic incentive for developers to explore open-source software.

First, local developers can start by selling mature open source solutions, particularly in terms of infrastructure (mail, file servers) where open source software has been proven to do well on the global market. They can configure the systems and provide support.

Local developers can customize open source solutions or building on top of those platforms. For example, they could develop a database-backed website using open source tools and integrating other open source modules. This is even more attractive for local developers because they retain all the value added.

Lastly, local developers can offer products and services to the global market. For example, Infoweapons built an IPv6 DNS and firewall appliance using open source code. This allows local developers to take advantage of lower labour costs. It also contributes to a trade surplus. Deep access to source code and skills learned in the process of working on open source make it easier for developers to create innovative world-class applications.

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Blogging away my writer’s block

It is often helpful to think out loud on my blog, where I can be more informal and less structured. =) I'm working on an actor-network analysis of open source in developing countries, so I'll think about pieces of it over here before editing it into a more scholarly form.

Okay. Network dynamics.

It is instructive to start with the closed-source view of the world. Software developers in developing countries can take proprietary software solutions such as Microsoft Office or the Oracle database server, develop solutions on top of it, and sell these solutions to the local market. This allows developers to meet the needs of the market without spending a lot of time writing everything from scratch. The solutions also gain credibility through their association with global brands. However, this presents certain problems:

Cost. Although studies of the total cost of ownership show that labour costs far outweigh license costs, these studies do not reflect the case in developing countries where labour costs are lower and licence fees are disproportionately high due to weak currencies and other factors. See really crazy chart of GDP per capita vs licencing costs for Microsoft Office. Trade imbalance. Think of all those dollars flowing out of the country... I heard that Microsoft partners make 9 dollars for every dollar Microsoft makes - but that just means that 10% is going out of your economy, versus open source which lets you keep all the value-add inside the country. Lack of deep access. Without access to source code, developers can't customize closed source programs to really fit local markets through localization, customization, integration, etc. in ways unanticipated by the global developers or in ways that were not profitable for the global developers to support. Dependence. Local software developers become dependent on the proprietary software companies, which could change its licencing terms or discontinue product lines.

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Minutes from meeting on Thursday

Attendance: Dave Kemp, Sacha Chua
From 2:10 to 2:30 or so

  • Apologies for miscommunication: Sacha had written down the meeting for 1:00 but for some reason thought it would be 2:00 instead.
  • Briefly discussed Sacha's actor-network map for the economic effect of open source development in developing countries and Dave's actor-network map for open content
  • Dave focuses more on content creators, while Sacha focuses more on "content remixers" adapting global content for a local market. MJ will focus on content distributors. Neat, isn't it?
  • Sacha's AN map includes proprietary content developers (notably foreign proprietary software companies), which actively try to discourage open source development and adoption. On the other hand, Dave's AN map shows how proprietary content organizations assimilate open content (indie movies get bought up, etc).
  • Maybe our joint AN map can discuss the open economic model?

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Notes from KMD2004 meeting

Attendance: Dave Kemp, MJ Suhonos, Sacha Chua

Next action Work on individual ANT maps, due Oct 5
Next meeting Oct 5 2:00 PM at Dave Kemp's studio
  • Reviewed the group deliverables: initial memo, individual requirements, group paper, presentation, intervention piece
  • Selected the controversial issues that we would focus on
    • Creative Commons and intellectual property: Dave Kemp
    • Open Access Journal and power concentration: MJ Suhonos
    • Open source development in developing countries and economic development / social inequity: Sacha Chua
  • Actor-technology network map due on Oct 10, so we will prepare individual actor-technology network maps and discuss them next Thursday (Oct 5) at 2:00.
  • Shared some bibliography tips: Dave Kemp's essay has references), Lessig's book, Wealth of Networks
  • Exchanged phone numbers

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