More random musings on opensource: States and Transitions

I said I would revert to the theme with which Dan Farber ended his opensource post: the inevitability of hybrids.

Why are hybrids inevitable? I think it all boils down to what Stephen Smoliar and Gordon Cook have been talking about recently, both in the shape of comments here as well as in their own blogs. [Blogs overlap and underlap all over the place, like real conversations….].

States and Transitions.

Many of us know where we want to go, but the path is not yet clear. We know what today represents. We know what tomorrow should look like. But we struggle with the in-between.

That in-between, the transition, tends to have three characteristics

1. Everyone’s Entitled to My Opinion

Polarisation: Opinions get polarised. Everything is about Big Ends versus Little Ends. Blefuscu Redux. Proprietary versus open. Petrol versus electric. VHS versus Betamax.

2. You say Tomahto, I say Tomayto

Meme battles: The battle switches to ideas and terms as we strive to make sense of it all. The language gets less civil, more intense, as passions move past simmering point. When words are the only weapons the air tends to get its own tinge of blue.

3. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

While 1 and 2 are going on, with each side battling in glorious technicolor, the world carries on. And pragmatic people build pragmatic business models and exchange pragmatic value.

We’re all part of this ecosystem. It is said that each plant has its own specific parasite and its own specific pest, that famines were caused by people who carried plants to far-off lands without the apposite pest-parasite pairing. It’s not always clear what our roles are, who the pest is, who the parasite is. Maybe some of us who blog are pests. Maybe the media that feeds on our doings are parasites. Whatever it is, the outcome can and should be a healthy plant.

Hybrids represent transition. And some process of natural selection, as different hybrid strains battle it out for top slot; some atrophy and die, some adapt and survive.

So we have hybrids.

An aside. Hugh Macleod had this to say in a recent post. Over 95% of all Microsoft revenues come from their partners.

Think about it. What keeps the ecosystem going? Who is the pest? Who is the parasite? And is the plant healthy as a result?

Distribution channels are partners. Ecosystem members are partners. Customers are partners.

As we move from proprietary to open worlds, we are seeing another transition. The customer is becoming the partner. And not a day too soon.

5 thoughts on “More random musings on opensource: States and Transitions”

  1. Hi Tara, as you’d guessed, I had read it. Someone at Market Platform Dynamics was kind enough to send me a copy.

    I’m particularly interested in the changing dynamics of the platform as disintermediation bites into distribution.

  2. JP, I cannot speak for Gordon; but I would say that this post goes exactly in the opposite of the direction I am trying to pursue! (Here we were in “fierce agreement” yesterday. So it goes!) More specifically, thinking about a transition as an “in-between” is precisely what I want to avoid.

    Let me try to illustrate my position with one of the more ludicrous moments in IBM history. Back in the days when magnetic tape was the primary medium for databases (such as they were), a tape had to go through a preparatory phase before data could be written to it. That phase consisted of dividing the tape into blocks of equal size by laying down a series of evenly-spaced markers. In other words you divided the tape into the virtual equivalent of pages of a book; so you could then maintain a “directory,” where you could keep track of which information was written on which “pages.” The markers became known as INTER-RECORD GAPS; and there is a notorious IBM document that provides an introduction to databases in which the term “record” is defined as “an interval on the tape between two inter-record gaps.” This is either a profound statement of Zen Spinozism or an object of derision; and, like most of my colleagues, I always opted for the latter. I hope you get the joke, because, if you do not, it may be hard to continue the conversation!

    My goal is to find a way in which transition, rather than state, becomes my point of departure for description. I think this is what Heidegger was trying to get at when, in the title to Part One of BEING AND TIME, he talks about “the Explication of Time as the Transcendental Horizon for the Question of Being.” In other words being is out there on the horizon of time; state arises as a side-effect of process. It is always on the horizon, though, because, if you will forgive the cliche, time is always marching on.

    Now I am far from a Heidegger expert (VERY far); but I think that the overall program of BEING AND TIME involved the opposing views of time as that which is between states of being and being as the horizon of time. Having studied his Fichte and his Hegel, Heidegger would then deal with this opposition by seeking out a path of synthesis. THAT is really where I want to go in any setting in which we cannot ignore time, whether it is the management of open-source content (the dialectic between software as a stored executable and software as executing code) or the more philosophical questions of identity in cyberspace (the dialectic between stored records and the being-in-time of behavior). As I believe I have said before, we are all at a disadvantage because they do not teach this sort of stuff in either engineering school or business school; but it has profound implications for how we (not to mention the customers of whatever business we may be in) experience both states and transitions in cyberspace, implications that are just to profound to ignore if we want the Internet to continue to be a valuable asset.

  3. As Doc et al call it, we have the World Live Web. I think the word Live, in this context, suggests something which drives me to read what you have to say on this. Can’t say I understand it all, Stephen, I never went to engineering school or business school so I missed the opportunity to not be taught all this :-)
    The Live aspect is also what attracts me so much to Enterprise 2.0, however much that term is derided. Enterprises are wonderful petri dishes for experimentation, and Web 2.0 costs of entry are low enough to justify participation…..

Let me know what you think

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