I have not poked at a blog posting of Matt Asay's in quite some time, so no time like the present. This morning I ended up reading a post he wrote for CNET on August 20, "GPL is the new BSD in Web2.0, and why this matters." As always Matt is pulling at the threads that tie together the big picture elements - him being extremely smart and whatnot. The target of his comments was really about source code licensing and how that applies to the world of Web 2.0 (and beyond).
I agree that the web is driving outrageously cool technology resulting in new business models all the time. And, I agree that these changes are going to adjust the way we think about what "unique value" really means in an environment dominated by the network effect. And, I agree that the legal constructs under which we have been functioning for so long are going to be challenged and stretched. And, most importantly, I agree that in the world of Web 2.0 data is king thus making the network effect so powerful. Ok - I got all the agreeing out of the way with that.
Here is where we fundamentally part ways. The reason people don't get over the "software fetish" is because that is still a huge asset - and it tends to be the really expensive part of creating any services offering. Data is the other massive asset - but you don't get that without high value software underneath. People will continue to value their hard work in producing that software.
Open source projects with bad code...are still bad. Proprietary projects with bad code...well, you get the picture. I have had this conversation with Matt in the past, and we will continue to see this issue differently. Fine.
The thing that really surprised me in the posting though was these two simple sentences, "Lock us in through data. Fine."
I have been talking with executives, government officials, academics, etc. all over the world for the past 2 years about data. If there is one thing that people REALLY do not want locked up by vendors it is their data. Online, enterprise apps, consumer devices...nope - don't lock up my data. In fact, this concept has catapulted the rather arcane world of data formats to the top of the industry news heap lately.
If I had to choose between buying a service online from a single vendor who believes their value is in their software, but get to control my data vs. using an open technology where my data is locked up unless I pay for it...I think I want my data thanks.
As I sit and write this my own hypocrisy comes filtering into my thoughts. I have been paying a subscription service for music lately - and don't own a song. Hmmm...so there is a place where I am tolerant of someone else controlling my data. But, I don't think I would feel the same way if I was creating the music vs. just consuming songs created by others.
I don't think we are going to wake up in 20 years and think about how goofy we were about software. I think in 20 years the development tools, and environments in which apps (or their future analogs) will run are still going to prove that he who is able to build the best code (innovation) that delivers a great service (business model), is going to be making some good money.
What I think we will find in 20 years is how much more people value their data. So much more of our lives will become digitized and that will lead to greater awareness of what data is ours, and how important it is. Just think about the progression of the privacy issue over the past 15 years. People want to control their data, they expect the companies building solutions that they use to enable that control while still offering powerful, compelling technology qua software.
I deleted a paragraph that I had been drafting and decided not to pursue - I goofed up by having it still on this post...