In the two articles of this series of three we have seen how corporations leverage Open Source Software (OSS) to build new solution and how an open source strategy foster in-house and community based innovation. It is a new world for software development and related business-building strategies, a world where even enterprise software projects leverage open source components for their foundation. The freedom to extend or even fork the project to explore new options can lead to unexpected innovation and usage, when done right. Open licenses mean that contributors – including yourself – have no restrictions on tweaking code and tailoring it to match requirements or customizing it to specific needs within an organization or industry. However to ensure continuity and sustainability of the project, the community now need to scale, gain the critical size and drive broad adoption.
A key thing to remember is that open source licenses offer poor protection in a competitive environment. The most effective way to defend your market is to quickly grow your community to a critical size. You need to drive broad adoption, like Docker did (more on this later). When you become the standard in your industry, the market is less appealing to new entrants with different technologies. Those interested in solving similar issues will rally your cause and leverage your existing code while sharing their own contribution.
Building an ecosystem is more about understanding the players and their dynamics rather than adding new features. Partnerships are the best way scale your community. Look for organization with inter-dependencies who have complementary interests to contribute to the project. They will unlock new users and markets while benefiting from your technology.
For example, Docker, a 35 person company, is revolutionizing application deployment with their open source project consisting of two components: Docker Engine, an application run-time and packaging tool and Docker Hub a cloud service for sharing applications. By opening up their core application very early on, they drew over 450 participants who helped to adapt the code to multiple environments. In 2014, Docker raised $15M to help accelerate the delivery of their product and take control of the market as the new standard process to deploy application before larger players were able to get in.
The integration between Refine and AlchemyAPI (now part of IBM Watson group) is an other example how collaboration between complementary platform can create a win-win situation. AlchemyAPI recognizes persons, places, and organizations in a corpus of text and extracts them as separate entity. Their service helps marketing and PR professional to tag articles but requires that they write a custom integration component. Using Refine with the name entity extension enables anyone to gain immediate access to AlchemyAPI feature without extra development cost.
RefinePro is an example of a business leveraging OpenRefine. RefinePro aims to broaden the usage of Refine in more sectors by offering hosted and managed instances (cloud-based or on premise) along with professional services (training, support, and consulting). By making Refine easy to use, deploy, and integrate into a business’s existing work-flow, RefinePro wants to grow the open source community by attracting new members and contributors.
To compensate, poor licensing protection offered by open license, projects need to drive fast adoption and strive to become the industry standard early. This can be achieved by building partnerships to attract new users and contributors. With more organizations joining the open ecosystem, communities benefit from improved adherence that enhances software outcomes in terms of functionality, security, quality of code, and ease of deployment and usage.
Go ahead, you can build a complete business on top of an open source project. Alternatively, you can fork an existing project and add the missing pieces to create a new project like Docker did. In any case don’t forget to contribute back; for open source every little fix or improvement counts and is greatly appreciated. Start with small steps; share your progress and roadmap early and often, in order to get feedback from other contributors.