Sometimes it seems as though bitcoin is a required fixture in the news. The recent collapse of Mt Gox is just the latest in a string of headlines that may have you wondering why people even bother. Bitcoin itself though remains a powerful idea and its transparent, open source approach have enabled it to stand up to scrutiny and criticism with head held high. Not only does it hold a lot of potential in its own right, it also stands as a shining innovative example of the potential for distributed, peer-authenticated ledgers. Far more problematic are the “exploitative ad-hoc businesses” which have grown up around it.
Over the last six months Simon’s been trying out a selection of different bitcoin services and exchanges. The different results he’s encountered generally reflect badly on this admittedly young industry and suggest that they have yet to really find their feet. In particular he claims that they need to work on transparency, user trust and business rigor. Despite his experiences, the process of exploring this world has left him confidently re-assured by the underlying potential behind bitcoin as a concept. Read more in this weeks InfoWorld article.
In her post on ComputerWorld, Alexandra makes the excellent observation that the impact of surveillance is not exclusively personal. Knowing we could be watched, as Jeremy Bentham observed, changes our behaviour; specifically, it chills our creativity. This in turn affects innovation and hence the economy. More directly, businesses (like RSA) are harmed by the disclosure of their for-profit collusion.
As a consequence, it is in our business interests to deal with excessive surveillance, not just our personal interests. The same applies to the four freedoms of open source. They are not just a matter of personal preference; they are the key to business success in a meshed society.
Maybe there’s more to the Facebook acquisition of WhatsApp than just the centralised consolidation of users and user information that Simon denounced in his previous InfoWorld article. Perhaps this particular addition to their portfolio is Facebook’s move towards becoming the first truly global telco!
The idea makes a lot of sense; not only is the world already familiar with the technology, WhatsApp has the same phone numbers that legacy telcos use, without the need to pay for connection fees across the world’s analog phone network. It’s almost amazing it hasn’t happened already, but conditions for a global telco have only recently become so ideal. Smart phones and globally available internet connections mean the moment has come and the big question remaining is, who’ll get there first?
Read Simons take on the potential for a global telco in his InfoWorld article.
Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp gains them almost half a billion users worth of telephone data. We can fully expect them to share their user information once joined, adding a wealth of phone data to Facebook and fleshing out WhatsApp with both Facebook’s data and the results of Facebook’s powerful semantic search. This sort of centralisation avoids giving users control of their own data.
To create a more positive environment in which users retain control of their data, what’s needed are more federated projects. Projects which offer the ability for suitably capable users to run their own service that can federate as a full peer, extending the service without surrendering full control. Diaspora and WordPress are two high profile examples of what federated services can look like, but there are many more available. All are open to user control in addition to service provider hosting.
If we are to maintain control of our own data in the future, federated services offer us much more hope than the route Facebook and WhatsApp are going down. Read more in this weeks InfoWorld article.
Showing that no issue is actually sorted until the end of the process is reached, Microsoft is trying to get its partner network to speak up for OOXML as a document format for government interaction. In a posting to ComputerWorldUK, Simon explains that this would defeat the objective explained by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude, who said
“The software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies. A tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace. I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software.”
So ODF Advocates once again need to speak up for openness and diversity – there are links in the article.
What opportunities does Open Source provide if you’re really looking to go big? Aiming to become “the next Red Hat” is an idea flawed from the start, as former XenSource CEO Peter Levine explains in his recent TechCrunch article. So what’s left if business models focussing on selling support and services all have a relatively low limit to their growth?
Those who are making the most money out of Open Source today are in fact not those who try to monetize a specific Open Source project, but those who innovate and build businesses that sit on top of a backbone of Open Source projects. Twitter, Square, Google and Facebook could all be given as examples of this sort of innovation. Importantly, the Open Source communities these companies engage with are likely to stay active and healthy as other community members also execute on their business model, gaining benefit from the project as well as making their own contributions (if they are smart).
For more, take a look at Simon’s InfoWorld article.