Oh but of course: comparison of Google and Open Source innovation models

by Sebastian Benthall

What is below is mere speculation. I don’t know anything about Google.

I guess this just is an admission of naivete, but one of the most surprising things about Google+ to me right now is that it’s been a surprise. Wave was a huge technical investment that flopped. Buzz happened and was meek. For some reason, they became old news. But Google is super organized on the inside, and can actually afford to annoy people mildly or lose cool points for the sake of conducting an experiment. Does Google+ use Wave technology? Well who knows because it’s locked down behind the NDA. Was it inspired by Buzz usage and feedback? Is it powered by Buzz data? It’s safe to assume so, right?

Part of Google’s power is that it isn’t just a startup operating in the market. It is a whole bunch of startups operating in a coordinated collective. A lot of its advantage is in its efficiency as an incubator, which means its ability to recycle old technology choices, talent, expertise. It’s other advantage is to have a business model that’s going to scale up with the amount of data collected, which means it can focus on user experience).

The only comparable thing I know of in terms of efficient recycling of technology and content is the “open source world.” People build technology for their application or to scratch their itch, and it sticks around for reuse. if a particular funder drops a project that has reached half of its potential, the same team can find a new funder to pick it up and take it the rest of the way. And hackers who learn something on one project are under no legal restrictions to take that human capital with them on to the next.

But there isn’t a unified business model for open source development. Its still struggling for funding, fighting the inherent free rider problems and figuring out how to get funders who are willing to take risk.

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