Skip to main content

Open, The Word Of The Moment

Actually "open" isn't the word of the moment, it's "collaboration" which I seem to stumble across in every business conversation I have - at a recent conference it was used a total of 71 times and by every speaker (myself included).

However, collaboration is nothing if the bases it builds upon are not open.
How can you collaborate if the information is closed, the functionality ("tools") is only given to a select few, the connections between the people/information/tools are controlled or communications are betwen slecet people in secret places. Nope, for true collaboration you MUST have an open environment.

Whlst open communication is something that IT can assist with it is more of a cultural issue and so let's look at three of these core components separately - tools, connections and information ("data").

Open tools - nearly done
This is the area which has seen the most progress. In the past the best tools were expensive, installed within corporate walls and controlled by Nazi IT Departments - this world is rapidly changing. Having an accounting system that any sized organisation would be proud to have is no longer out of the reach of the one-man band (think Xero). The ability to have your own website, professional documents/spreadsheets, email and calendaring system is something we all take for granted (think Google Apps).

And if you require the ability to have local tools the open source industry has now caught up with and rapidly passing proprietary software in a lot of areas.

The tools are rapidly becoming consumer products which is making the open to all.
They are not, however, all able to operate across "open data", more on that later.

Open connections - the early days
This is still in it's infancy in the electronic world and to be fair no-one has cracked it.
To manage my connections at the moment I rely on one source (my GMail contacts) and hope that any information and/or tools that I use can participate with these contacts.

Some systems will use the Google Contacts API (Zoho for instance) but most expect me to supply my GMail username and password for them to screenscrap the information in an "import" manner. Not really that satisfactory.

As for connections between people there are, of course, many options out there Facebook, MySapce, Bebo (check out how they are being used around the world on this great map). Trouble is they are all closed! I cannot set-up my professional connections on LinkedIn and then have those same connections appear in Facebook. Some might say that's because LinkedIn has a different purpose/audience than Facebook but I say that's merely a reflection of the current situation and not how real life works - I have friends that are both personal and professional and I am not required to operate two black books to keep their contact details!

My great hope is the Open Social platform as proposed by Google but the money is in knowing stuff about you and who wants to give away money? Far better that Facebook (say) forces/encourages you to come to them and kep you there.

Open data - THE issue
Late last year I posted, "1 reason not to worry about file formats", which I now take retract!
I am especially swayed by the points made by Matthew on a related post and in particular:
2) If you ever want to switch between providers in the future then the providers will need to agree on some kind of format (Eg. standards). If they don't then you may be putting your content in one company's proprietary format, with all the same issues that we have now (interoperability, portability, competition through standards like we have in web browsers).
Having my data in the cloud* is all good and well UNTIL I want to either move it somewhere else and/or interact it with it using a different toolset.

Once the data is "in" something it generally has to stay "in".
My photos are all "in" Flickr. But how are they "in" there and how, if I wanted to, could I get them "out"?

You could say that Flickr (say) is making the data open by publishing an API*** but that's not the same as having data stored in an open format. Each and every service will have to publish an API to their data.

There are others talking about this - the following were one after the other in my reader this morning (funny old world isn't it):
The Richard Stallman's stance is particularly interesting as here in New Zealand he seems to have hit a nerve amongst certain people (notably the open source cognoscenti) about Google being "evil". I'm not so sure though as Google seem to have gone out of their way to let you get your data out into what ever (open/proprietary format) you want. What I would ask though is how I would do this in bulk, ie all of my documents out of Google Docs and into (say) Zoho?

Another good read on Google's stance is Matt Cutts', Not trapping users’ data = GOOD

Whatever your standpoint I agree with all that this is an important subject that needs addressing so get educated and involved:
Further articles on this blog:

Other views around the world:

* cloud - hip way of talking about the interweb**
** interwb, silly name for the internet/world wide web
*** API - Application Programming Interface, a way of hooking separate programmes together - needs geekery