Thursday, July 24, 2008

Open Source

I have been a user of the internet since around 1989, when I was a student at a tiny college (~400 students) on the East Coast. I created my first website sometime in the early 90s, and have had a nearly constant web-presence ever since.

I have long believed that the essence of the internet is freely (and broadly) shared and distributed knowledge and information. The sharing of ideas is what I have most prized. At times, I have lamented the commercialization of the space, when it seemed to counter the free-flow of ideas. Commercialization in itself is not the enemy. Stifling creativity is.

So, where do I see my role now, as I labor to develop a new technology, one which I hope and believe can be transformative. In principle, I'd like to see this new technology as widespread as possible, accessible, available. But...

I wish to retain for myself some independence, some ability to sustain myself, my family, my work. I have no desire to give away the farm. I want to ensure there is enough land left for me to grow vegetables, for I enjoy tilling the earth, and I require sustenance. It's an apt metaphor.

It is easy for a fully-employed, tenured professor to create and support open source software and technology. It is in ways the life of a scholar to freely share ideas (though, of course, there is at times conflict over whose ideas they are.)

But what of an entrepreneur? And not just any entrepreneur. I am in ways one thrust upon this life-path by circumstance, frustrating, disappointing, discouraging, abandoning circumstance. I have so far no external supports. I'm like a boat adrift at sea, with no anchor, and no sail.

We shall see. I have been preparing to patent the very foundation of the research I am doing. I have thought to protect the underlying principles upon which all the work depends. If I can figure a way to get to market with products that may prove sustaining, that may render my company viable for the long-term, without needing to keep that foundation closed, I will. I will, because it would be a better world for the free-flow of ideas, for open sharing. I will, because the ideas will more likely be widespread if I do. But I only will, if I can reasonably see how to keep enough of the farm.

1 comment:

trillwing said...

This is a quandary. My understanding is that a lot of the money in open source software comes from installing it, supporting it, and training people how to use it well.