Monday, November 15, 2010

Open Source Coopetition

Coopetition is the driving force behind many of the best Open Source projects. In the past, I have written about several different reasons that Open Source projects exist. There are business models like the low cost sales channel. Open Source can act as a home for old software that is still useful, but not commercially essential to a business. There have been attempts to use Open Source as a weapon, to suck the air out of a competitors lungs, by devaluing the intellectual property of the competitor, although many of these attempts have been less successful than their originator hoped.

A presentation on Hadoop got me thinking about Coopetition and Open Source. Hadoop is a big Open Source project to implement all the components of what I have called the Google Database System and a lot more. The major contributors to Hadoop are Yahoo!, Facebook and Powerset - now a part of Microsoft. While these companies are related in that Microsoft owns a stake in Facebook, has tried to buy Yahoo! and now Yahoo! uses Microsoft's Bing search engine, they are also competitors, fighting each other for the attention of web users.

So is it strange that these three companies should cooperate to build Hadoop, an incredibly useful and widely used Open source project? Firstly, the genius of Open Source is that they are not cooperating directly with each other they are all contributing code to a third party, the non-profit Apache foundation that oversees the Hadoop project. Secondly, by spreading the cost of the software over many contributors, they all gain much more than they contribute. Finally, many eyes and the public nature of the code tends to make it better than code that is bottled up in secret and protected from prying eyes. Because the Open Source model allows for the kind of coopetition that brings us software like Hadoop, we all benefit.

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