Open ... and Shut Developers love to complain about vendor infomercials at conferences and in press articles, and rightly so. No one wants to have marketing pitches shoved down their throats. They're boring and quite possibly counterproductive.
And yet so much of our media revert to vendor content because developers, so determined not to be marketed to, are too often constrained by their employers from offering interesting details on the technology they use.
This isn't just bad for the conference organizers and media publications that are forced to sell out to vendors/advertisers to pay their bills. It's also bad for developers, who are starved for meaningful information from their peers. It's like an open-source community in which nobody is allowed to share. It just doesn't work.
Peter Goldmacher, managing director and senior research analyst for The Cowen Group, recently wrote about the spread of Hadoop, which Cloudera chief executive Mike Olson reproduced in part on his blog. In his research note, Goldmacher makes it clear how critical it is for IT professionals to spread information about how they're using Hadoop:
Early adopters will pioneer use cases and fast followers will replicate those use cases. Once more mainstream companies see these use cases and are comfortable that the vanguard has derisked the implementation, the use case goes big time.
But now imagine an industry in which legal departments prohibit IT professionals from sharing information about their use cases. That's the industry we live in, one in which the release of information must be negotiated by vendors like Cloudera, Hortonworks and MapR.
Fortunately, in the case of some new technology, enterprises seem to understand the value that accrues to them by being publicly affiliated with cool technology. So they talk about how they changed the music business by harnessing data, for example, or in the case of Pepsi, they talk openly about how they decided to move to the cloud, or, as with the City of Chicago, they talk about how they built a crime prevention platform using NoSQL technology.
But these are the exceptions, not the rule.
Most enterprise IT stays firmly locked behind closed doors, despite attempts to get IT to open up. For example, in 2004 the Avalanche Technology Corporation was formed to provide an open source co-op between large companies like Best Buy and Medtronic; it tried to create a safe environment for companies to share information and code, but it failed to catch on.
More recently, Red Hat chief executive Jim Whitehurst has urged enterprises to develop and share open-source code. Most software is developed for use, not sale, and given the lack of sharing (of code and information) between companies, the current enterprise development model is hugely wasteful.
But still it's a strain to get anyone to speak on the record about how they're using technology, particularly if they somehow failed in their project. Most of my real learning in life came through failure, and I suspect I'm not alone in this. Why are we so cagey about sharing the fruits of our failures?
After all, as Olson argues:
What’s exciting about this [Hadoop] platform isn’t the opportunity it’s giving to vendors like us. It’s the value that Hadoop is unlocking in Big Data for the industry and for society at large. Companies that embrace the platform and the tools to ask bigger questions are the ones that will profit most.
He's right, but I'd suggest that the value Hadoop is "unlocking" would be even more if enterprises more freely shared their successes and failures, and sought to create a more collaborative learning environment.
Yes, they would have to give up information without any assurance of an adequate return. But that has always been the case with open-source software communities, and the net result of open source has been very, very positive. I suspect an "open-source information community" would be just the same, and perhaps more so. ®
Matt Asay is vice president of corporate strategy at 10gen, the MongoDB company. Previously he was SVP of business development at Nodeable, which was acquired in October 2012. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe (now part of Facebook) and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register. You can follow him on Twitter @mjasay.