Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Free Software, Web 2.0, and the Road Ahead

I've been thinking about the connection between Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and Web 2.0, and the road ahead. Web 2.0 has been built largely on the back of FOSS (think Google's Linux servers, the infrastructure of the Internet, and blog and wiki software--FOSS powers much of the Web 2.0 software). Not only has Web 2.0 inherited the technology of FOSS, but much of the collaborative philosophy as well.

In fact, one might even say that the "ideas" I put on the School 2.0 wiki are largely the ideals of FOSS:

  • Participation
  • Collaboration
  • Openness
  • Engagement
  • Self Learning
  • Mentoring
  • Apprenticeship

What will be interesting to watch is what happens as many of the Web 2.0 technologies that we love so much get into a position where they are no longer the underdog, and don't have the same market motivation to live these ideals. For instance, Flickr's meta data--not freely available, and locks you into their technology the more you comment, tag, and add notes. Will Flickr open that up? Certainly, traditional business practice would be to hold on to that "lock-in" advantage, but the "feel-good" gets lost.

Will there be a measurable result to that? Right now we are in a market where many companies are offering Web 2.0 technologies, and the competition is supported by the low cost of entry into the marketplace. When some of these companies start winning out (and, for sure, we could put Google in that category), will the collaborative, we-can-all-win philosophies have to bow to the pressures from investors?

I think Google, for example, has taught us a lesson that I hope we don't forget: we want to like the companies we do business with, and they've been too scarce the last few years. You can be a business that combines the need for profit with a desire to do good, and while it is not always easy, you can find ways to both serve your customers and make money. It's arguably the most profitable, long-term model, but it must be pretty easy to lose sight of because it is so often