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n°22  |  January   2008
Executive opinion

From Open Source to Social Computing
By Jean-Pierre Laisné, Director of Open Source Strategy, Bull

Director of Open Source Strategy at Bull, Jean-Pierre Laisné is co-founder of AFUL* and President of the OW2 consortium: the main international consortium focused on open middleware, and the result of the 2007 merger of the ObjectWeb and OrientWare consortiums.

Jean-Pierre Laisné also runs the Competence Center initiative for the QualiPSo consortium, an international alliance of major players in industry dedicated to maintaining quality in Open Source software.

* AFUL: The association of French-speaking Linux and Open Source software users

In the mid-1980s, several hundred developers united their efforts behind a simple idea: to invent a new mode of software development enabling a collaborative approach to innovation. The Open Source movement was born. Twenty years on, the original idea has given rise to an irreversible evolution in the software industry that is revolutionizing operating systems, middleware and now business applications. This exceptional success story is at the origin of a new approach that – both in terms of technology and content – is transforming the way we live and do business. Because we have to realize that Open Source is only the precursor to a much bigger phenomenon: that of the collaborative world, and virtual ecosystems. Building on the growth of the Internet, this phenomenon has already started to turn the production chain on its head, by linking together everyone involved – developers and users – and giving them ways to collaborate, and instigating new approaches to creation and consumption, whether they may be:

  • Technological, with Open Source software and ‘mashups’
  • Cultural, with Web 2.0 and its quintessential symbols: Wikipedia, YouTube, MySpace…
  • Economic, with the growth of the ‘virtual enterprise’
  • Political, with e-government and participative e-democracy.

Let’s make no mistake: this is not something symptomatic of other changes, nor a new marketing approach trying to repackage the same old concepts, production and consumption modes with a new kind of ‘buzz’. It is a very solid tendency. At the moment there is a real redistribution of power away from the producer to the user, from individuals to networks, and from organizations to ecosystems. So while the 1980s was the age of the ‘centralized computing’, the 1990s was the ‘personal computing’ era, and this first decade of the 21st century will be the age of ‘networked computing’, the decade beginning in 2010 will be the era of ‘social computing’.

Of course, we are still only just glimpsing the first signs of this era. The effects of the revolution are just starting to have an impact on leading-edge areas such as digital content, convergence of information/telecommunication technologies, offshore services and even public sector modernization programs. The appearance of the first 'mashup corporations', the development of social networks, and the emergence of new virtual worlds such as Second Life are omens announcing the birth of this new world.
We are only just starting to climb the innovation curve and its perilous summit of inflated expectations. In the Darwinian world of innovation, there will be setbacks and disillusionment, and we need to remember what happened in 2001. But why, after Web 1.0 and then 2.0, are many promising ‘start ups’ already organizing themselves around Web3.0 (sic)? Because all today’s players intuitively sense that a new map of possibilities is opening up, extending the horizon, and defining the shape of a new world in which our approach to creation and consumption is bound to evolve. A new world where even the way businesses are organized, as well as governments and public sector bodies, will benefit from the need to adapt to this new virtual environment.

Looking back on the lessons of the past 20 years and the key role that Open Source software has played in creating open technologies, so fundamental to this new world, we can look forward to the fact that it will play an even greater role in the future design and creation of ‘social computing’ interfaces and technologies. You only need to look at the battles being fought on the ground by Facebook and Google, in trying to unite communities of contributors to social networking software, or at the interest being shown in Open Source on SecondLife when it comes to conquering even more virtual territories, or to analyze the way service-oriented architectures have developed in order to construct the ‘mashup corporations’ of tomorrow... But in the end isn’t history repeating itself? Isn’t it openness, once again, that is enabling us to catch a glimpse of new frontiers?

From the business point of view, these new perspectives naturally signify new demands on companies and public sector bodies. What’s more, we can expect that the way this technology is used in the private sphere will engender new needs within the enterprise: don’t blogs and Facebook-type social networks, for example, represent an innovative way of sharing knowledge within an organization? Thanks to these new knowledge management tools, an employee with in-depth knowledge of a highly specific subject can easily make this know-how available to his or her colleagues whatever their position in the organization. Of course, these new applications will require a concerted effort both from a technological point of view (by the IT department) and from an organizational point of view (by senior management).
Against this backdrop of heightened complexity, which inevitably generates new ideas, who better than an Architect of an Open World – characterized by its combination of skills and vision – to anticipate which evolutions will be required? You can count on Bull’s teams to guide you adapting your systems to meet the new challenges faced by all today’s organizations.

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