Cloning vs. Innovation

While perusing some of Dave Winer's very early writing I found this snippet. Though he was talking about his work with the RSS protocol, I still found it intriguing..

Read Dave's entire post here. Checking in with Mr.Safe

..Nice idea, but format and protocol design doesn't actually work that way no matter what some open development advocates say. They're mostly well-intentioned people, many of them users like Larry Lessig, who want software to work for them, without the usual tricks that software developers play to lock them in. I share that goal, totally. But people like Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman have told them that they have figured out how to design software without a designer, but unfortunately their technique only works for cloning ideas that have already been designed..

I suppose there is some truth to the above statement. Instead of cloning, I would say assimilation is more appropriate. I have heard that F/OSS collective rivals the Borg. Resistance _is_ futile, believe that :)

All joking aside, to a greater extent everyone does a form of derivative work. Pure innovation can be quite expensive. Not too many people write software from scratch. Hence the reason that the Cupertino and Redmond giants more often than not, swallow and assimilate, rather than innovate.

I suppose what sets F/OSS apart from proprietary software models is the idea of the "release early and often" mantra. A product development analogy would be Kaizen, or constant gradual improvements. The ability to execute this concept has given the Japanese automakers a distinct advantage over the more seasoned US counterparts. Not many people call Honda or Toyota copycats anymore.

Still more folks seem to subscribe to the premise that F/OSS does not innovate.
Here is another excerpt that I stumbled across.

In his Info World's "Open Sources" column, Savio Rodrigues responds to Jaron Lanier's views on OSS..
OSS Does Innovate

Some of you may have seen this article in Discover Magazine by Jaron Lanier. I find it difficult to argue when someone challenges "OSS obvious truths" because doing so takes some degree of professional courage. Jaron writes:

Twenty-five years later, that concern seems to have been justified. Open wisdom-of-crowds software movements have become influential, but they haven’t promoted the kind of radical creativity I love most in computer science. If anything, they’ve been hindrances. Some of the youngest, brightest minds have been trapped in a 1970s intellectual framework because they are hypnotized into accepting old software designs as if they were facts of nature. Linux is a superbly polished copy of an antique, shinier than the original, perhaps, but still defined by it. Before you write me that angry e-mail, please know I’m not anti–open source. I frequently argue for it in various specific projects. But a politically correct dogma holds that open source is automatically the best path to creativity and innovation, and that claim is not borne out by the facts. Why are so many of the more sophisticated examples of code in the online world—like the page-rank algorithms in the top search engines or like Adobe’s Flash—the results of proprietary development? Why did the adored iPhone come out of what many regard as the most closed, tyrannically managed software-development shop on Earth? An honest empiricist must conclude that while the open approach has been able to create lovely, polished copies, it hasn’t been so good at creating notable originals. Even though the open-source movement has a stinging countercultural rhetoric, it has in practice been a conservative force.
The fact that many "sophisticated examples of code in the online world" are of the commercial software kind, and not OSS, is simply because the vendor felt they could grow and be profitable without open sourcing the product. In some "innovative products" such as Joost or Skype, the open/closed nature of the underlying software is of little concern to the users. In other cases, such as RIM's enterprise software, users may prefer a more open product, like Funambol, but are willing to trade openness for a product that just works.

When a vendor has a truly innovative product, they do whatever they can to increase their return on investment. In most cases, this means that the source code isn't released. The conclusion is not that OSS projects don't innovate. Rather, that projects that are truly innovative are developed by vendors whose benefactors (VCs or Wall St.) want the biggest bang for their investment. Ipso facto, closed source is usually the path taken in these situations. This has nothing to do with the type of innovation that OSS can deliver....

Rodrigues hit the nail on the head. I couldn't have stated it better, closed source companies are seeking a competitive advantage for the benefit of shareholders. Not necessarily the benefit of their consumers. Very different from the Bazaar model that ESR describes in the Cathedral and the Bazaar essay..

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    This page contains a single entry by AG published on May 22, 2008 2:47 AM.

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