Four Pillars: Foundation and Empire: Like a flame to a moth



This post will attract flames for sure. But with a little bit of luck some of the flames will be of the Axylia putria variety…..

If we want to get Four Pillars right, it is not enough for us to understand and follow Generation M, the demand side of the market. We need to take a long hard look at the supply side as well, the Artists Formerly Known as Vendors (AVs)

Why, you may ask? Henry Ford did not look at what horses ate or did, or how horses procreated, when he figured out how to manufacture cars efficiently. Yet he described what the car could do in terms of horse-power. Even if all that we can learn from AVs is how to describe what their successors do, this is worth doing.

There’s been a bit of brownian motion in the AV world over the last twenty years, as globalisation, disintermediation and the internet (as in the Borderless World of Kenichi Ohmae) met with the opensource movement (a la Eric Raymond and Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds) got snowball-enriched by conversation and emergence and democratised innovation (as influenced by Cluetrain conversations and the works of Steven Johnson, Yochai Benkler and Eric von Hippel) into the Identity and Digital Rights territory of Larry Lessig, Cory Doctorow and Rishab Aiyer Ghosh. Good feeling to have every reference in this paragraph accessible in Wikipedia. Makes this kind of blogging easier. Who knows, one day Wikipedia may become the Grand Panjandrum of all footnotes and bibliographies…..

Back to the story. Brownian motion. Lots going on. Artists Formerly Known as Vendors wondering what to do. Let’s see what’s happening:

Protocol becomes device driver becomes kernel becomes distro becomes stack becomes ….. you’ll find out after the break.

The opensource community started pushing everyone up the stack.


Hardware guys were already there, they understood that they’d been commoditised. Every now and then things would happen that gave them a chance to get another 15 minutes of fame….. flash memory and NAND RAM, Apple going on to Intel, the iPod halo effect, Skype and IPv6 and SIP morphing telephony into software, all against a backstory of Moore and Metcalfe and commoditisation and virtualisation and service orientation.

The operating system and language and database guys were pretty cool about things, they understood it was free-as-in-freedom-not-free-as-in-gratis, so they played along. Except for a few.

ERP and SCM and CRM systems started becoming opensource as well, so the only answer for those guys was to use defences like “confidentiality” and “privacy” and “DRM” to stop the empires crumbling. So they moved higher up, permutating and combining with each other and seeking to make strange bedfellows of their erstwhile competition. And this largely worked, but not in such a way as to sustain them for the long run. A few tried variants based on software-as-a-service, but this was hard to sell against the backdrop of confidentiality raised by them a few years earlier.

Traditional systems integrators and midsized consultants hurriedly rebadged themselves as package vendors, putting loads of lipstick on generic pigs. IT departments were too busy getting beaten up for doing exactly what the customer wanted (spend too much money in the 90s) so a few of the lipstuck pigs made it to the next generation. A few good ones as well.

The squeeze was on. Everyone moving up the stack. Oh if only things were that simple. Because the aforesaid IT departments were holding the top of the stack down, and pushing even harder down.

Something had to give. Something did. The Grand Panjandrum consultants got pushed out, and went after more productive markets. Healthcare. Public sector. Anywhere where it wasn’t that easy to get fired or sued. [That was then. Now even that market’s crowded].

Oh yes. I mentioned stack. Before the break. Let me continue.

What happens to a stack when it grows up? It becomes a utility.

Utilities can be geographical. They can be industry-sector-agnostic as well. But from a computing perspective, my hunch is that the best value comes when the utilities are designed around specific vertical markets.

There will be a sign, a way for us to recognise that we are moving into the vertical utility stage. That sign is when we see IT departments of competitors in a given market start to merge, explicitly for commodity services.

Opensource is all about designing to commoditise, not designing to differentiate. It needs smarts to do the simple things.

And when this starts happening, we will finally have ecosystems that make sense. With participants differing in scale and size and speed, but working symbiotically with each other. With community driven standards of connect and authenticate and presence and identity and share.

The AVs will need to adapt to this, reinvent themselves, work out new ways of creating value and exchanging value. Not suing and countersuing on patents and DRM.

The rest of the ecosystem is already there, and will only grow. As they move up the stack even more, inhouse IT departments will stop pushing back and allow new things to emerge.

With new Foundations and Four Pillars. New ways of visualising things. New ways of learning, of training, of transferring and sharing knowledge, of enriching knowledge. New ways of increasing presence and mobility and location-sensitivity. New ways of enhancing the user experience, of co-creation. New ways to tag and microformat, to mash and mutate, and emerge and re-emerge.


Let me know what you think

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