Jan 18

What if Disaster Relief Were Run Like an Open Source Project?

Today I watched two hours of Haiti news coverage. It breaks my heart to see the devastation in the area. I’m also a bit concerned that government bureaucracy could slow down crucial relief efforts.

If you check whitehouse.gov, we can give money and pay attention to what’s happening. But what if I have a big company and I can actually implement solutions much faster than a government organization can? Should I want to passively observe the devastation?

What if Obama used his massive power with the media to crowd source relief? I would imagine the first line of order would be to get communication in the area and relief workers to give out food and water. One of the telcos could step forth and various water and food companies could come forward. UPS actually does logistical work and could help coordinate some of the shipping to a Haiti port.

Doctors and pharmaceutical companies could offer their services. Airlines could fly them there.

After this, there would need to be security to keep the peace as well as efforts to offer shelter. I’m not sure the military could get crowd sourced, but Architecture for Humanity allows architects to contribute ideas for sustainable housing in developing nations. Obama could use the winning designs and then the fledgling building supply companies could offer up housing.

Why would these companies offer these services for nothing or next to nothing? The same reason why developers contribute to open source: for fulfillment and credibility.
1.) If Obama comes out and says, “We could count on American Airlines to deliver our thought leadership teams to Haiti on time,” it’s worth more than any add they could put on TV. If he says “Southwestern Bell really dropped the ball with our communication strategy”, the opposite rules apply. Obama and his staff can hold parts of the puzzle accountable, which keeps them honest regardless of payment.
2.) One backlink/dedicated page from the biggest crowdsourced project to date (Haiti relief from whitehouse.gov) is worth more than just about any backlink an SEO expert could buy you. You’d also want to consider all of the residual backlinks you’d get from people discussing specific parts of the project.
3.) It’s the right thing to do and giving product away is often cheaper than advertising.

This would obviously require “architects” familiar with this type of work to coordinate. But given how long government contracts can take to get through and the bureaucracy and expense involved, isn’t it the right thing to do? Shouldn’t that be what “Yes We Can” means?

Jul 01

Dear Seth Godin, Malcolm Gladwell & Chris Anderson: You are All Right about “Free”. Now Shut Up.

β€œIn the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”
–CHRIS ANDERSON

Are you kidding me? “Free” with a capital F? What are you, Effing Jesus?

Chris Anderson seriously needs to slow down. I saw him at South by Southwest and felt his “content should be free” shtick was more of a marketing ploy to push his book than genuine advice to help people build a business model. It was very disappointing, and at this point, I’m not sure his free book is worth the time it takes to read.

Well, Malcolm Gladwell wrote this New Yorker article stating that when you give something for free, people assume it has no value. He pointed to YouTube, which has yet to make money for Google. Okay.

THEN Seth Godin jumped on the Free (note the capital F so as to not offend Chris Anderson) bandwagon and went on an ad hominem attack stating that Anderson’s Wired is making money with free, while the New Yorker, who Gladwell writes for, is not. Apparently, free gets people’s attention in an A.D.D. world.

Guess what? You are all right. Now shut up.

Chris Anderson. You need to appreciate that not all people want their content to be the same as everyone else’s. When things are free for everyone, we do not have that choice. The Wall Street Journal will ALWAYS be able to charge people for content, so long as that content provides their readers with a competitive advantage for their jobs. If money is an exclusive barrier that makes subscribers part of a club others can’t afford, they’ll pay for it. People like the exclusivity that money affords them. Just ask the people who actually venture to TED. If it makes me money, saves me more time, or makes me happier than what I can get for free, charge me money. Apple does it and it works just splendidly for them.

Malcolm Gladwell. You need to acknowledge that the web crashes barriers. Web hosting is DISGUSTINGLY CHEAP unlike print. The best thing the New Yorker could do to preserve itself is to kill its presses, go web-based, and hire bloggers who fit their style. As soon as you launch a paid subscription, someone else will come up with a cheaper or free subscription with something similar, and it can be just as good and paid for by ads. Maybe they’ll even go user generated and just hire some editor who is brilliant but lives in his mom’s basement. Seth is right. You need to learn to leverage the web better.

Seth Godin. “In a world of free, everyone can play.” True, but not everyone can win, or even stay afloat. Free IS a relatively cheap way to get attention, but not always able to keep that attention. People want content to do certain things for them. If the free stuff doesn’t do it, they’ll pay for something else.

Oh, and don’t tell me that free is the future and then blog using TypePad instead of the superior AND free WordPress. Seriously. Software is code, and code is content too.

Free content can suck. Proprietary content can suck. Just don’t suck at delivering the content that your current and potential readers want and you are okay. I feel like I’m watching a bunch of kids throw sand in each other’s faces in the playground.

Nov 03

OK, Open Source Project. Let Me Give You Money Already. Geez.

As much as I pride myself in writing solid copy for a blog post or company website, there’s no point if you don’t bother to reach out. It would be like cooking a good meal without inviting any guests.

One of my clients is a hosting company WebHostingBuzz. The guys at WebHostingBuzz have been doing hosting forever. It’s what they know. So unlike a lot of their sleazy competitors, they’d just assume not create fake hosting review sites to trick people into thinking they are good, or advertising unlimited bandwidth when the fine print says otherwise.

What was my proposal to reach out? Why, we would support open source projects by giving them a portion of any sale they refer to us. We track cookies for over a month, so as long as someone chooses WHB as their preferred host without deleting their cookies, they are golden. Easy way to make money, right? Everyone interested in an open source project needs a host.

Another one of my clients is NameCheap, the domain registrar. NameCheap seriously offers the best deal on the web in terms of domain registration. You get free WhoIs Guard and a free Comodo SSL for a year. I used them because most people don’t know that when you register a domain, your address is listed in the WhoIs directory, meaning any yokel can decide they are going to look up your site and figure out where you live. Whois Guard can protect against this, and I figured that with the SSL and a direct API, it was a great deal for ecommerce software companies especially.

So I’ve been contacting open source CMS projects and open source ecommerce projects to see if they would be interested in basically getting money just for putting these companies on their sites, like an ad. Of over a dozen companies I’ve called, I’ve had two express interest. These were also the only two (Magento, which is open source, and Shopify, which isn’t) that even bothered getting back to me.

What is the deal? Do these companies think money is evil or something? Why do open source projects not have a big freaking category that says “HOSTING” and possibly “DOMAINS” where they can get a portion of whatever business they send our way? I’m not trying to take away from the community whatsoever. I’m trying to pour money into it so the primary contributors could perhaps provide support, or help build the community by reaching out to developers. I’m trying to make it easy for people using open source to get services (hosting and domains) they need anyway. If they get complaints, take WHB and NameCheap off the list. It seems that everyone wins under this equation.

Am I not on this kumbaya bandwagon that says that any money poured into open source is bad? With exception of Automattic and WordPress (who also didn’t get back to me), why do most open source projects not partner with hosting companies and domain registrars? Is this because they are “projects” and not “companies”? Don’t they see that money will allow them to help market to a community and provide support? Who in this equation wouldn’t want this?

I want to support open source companies and their projects, not buy Google AdWords or set up craptastic fake review sites. Is there a secret knock and a handshake I don’t know? What am I missing something to make this work?

Jun 26

Exploring Open Source with The OG Open Source Guys at OpenNMS

Me in NC with the Guys from OpenNMS

I just got back from North Carolina to meet with the guys at OpenNMS about their website. These guys are OG open source network management software guys, since OpenNMS has been around since 1999.

It truly is refreshing to see a company that gets open source. Open source isn’t about some pie-in-the-sky ideal of what software or community is. Open source makes sense business wise.

To me, open source is about:
1.) freedom, since we can customize the code to do what we need it to do rather than what a software company decides is right for us.
2.) pragmatism, since we only have to pay for the part we need customized and yet we get all the other features for free.

It’s funny, everyone always asks, “How do you make money with open source?” This question equates open source with free, which open source is not. That is freeware. The OpenNMS Group is profitable because it provides support and customization for the OpenNMS project. The more they get the OpenNMS project out there and the better services they provide in helping customers’ networks run more efficiently, the more money they make. It’s pretty simple.

Open source empowers the user to put in as little or as much into a product as they wish. No other software model allows us to do that. Think of it like a political campaign. Generally those who spend the most money or effort have the most impact on how the software functions. If it works great as is, you don’t have to do anything. If it has bugs, help fix them. If you need it to do something else, make it do something else or hire someone else to make it do what you want. Just like democracy, open source communities are only as good as the people in them and need good leaders to keep mob mentalities in check.

Many thanks to Tarus, Dave, Ben and Matt for treating me so well and dealing with my 10,000 questions while I was in North Carolina.

Apr 23

Using Linux Ubuntu to Bridge the Digital Divide

I am not an “open source evangelist”. My knowledge of code does not extend beyond basic HTML. I have had offers to teach me, but I am a marketer and my career advances when I learn more about marketing, not about code.

I also dabble in volunteering. Generally, I’ve been too career driven to volunteer, but recent circumstances in my life have made me reevaluate my priorities. I’ve been helping Elaine Allen, who works tirelessly to improve the living situations of many refugees here in town. When I tell her about cool new happenings in the tech world, she tells me about people living here in Austin who often run out of money for food. These people are refugees from Burma, Rwanda, Sudan, and Burundi, who came here with nothing but social security numbers and the need to escape a horrible situation. I met a refugee here in Austin who was down to three diapers for her baby and heard stories of another man who worked so tirelessly, he is 55 years old with long hair because he is too busy working as a janitor to actually stop to get a haircut. That is what $7 an hour gets you in Austin.

What does this have to do with Linux? Austin has lost thousands of jobs in the shift to a knowledge based economy. If a person does not have basic internet skills, they will fall further and further behind in the digital divide. I can help these refugees by simply giving them the computers people aren’t using. Why is Linux Ubuntu perfect for this?

  • I don’t have to pay for it (duh).
  • They won’t have to worry about anti-viral software, which I doubt they would know much about anyway.
  • Upgrades are silly easy and also free.
  • I can accept older computers, since Linux is less resource intensive than XP, and a welterweight compared to Vista. Why spend money when I can use other people’s unused computers for free and get better, virus and worm free results :-)? Most of the software they need is web-based anyway.
  • What do I not like about using Linux for this project?
    I generally like hanging out with people and being outdoors. This means I don’t want to be sitting and installing Flash or Gnash on every machine I get. According to the Linux Journal, I’d also have to install Java, MP3 support, DVD support, video streaming plugins, and true type fonts. People use this stuff, but setting them up on every machine I get fills my heart with dread. I just want to give computers to people who should be using them.

    Why Ubuntu is Cool as Hell
    Nowadays, software is more expensive than the machine you put it on. With Linux, there are no viruses, free upgrades, open office and gimp already part of the package. I can offer all the basics to people who need them without worrying that I’m going to get hauled off to jail or fined simply for trying to help people who have been through the worst humanity has to offer. This project would simply be too labor intensive and expensive if my only option was Windows.

    Mark Shuttlesworth doesn’t have to support Canonical or Ubuntu–he just does. The idea of consciously contributing something so useful to the community at large is truly inspirational.

    To learn how you can help these refugees, please visit borntohelp.org. To learn more about Ubuntu, a free operating system built by the developer community, visit Canonical’s website. To donate a computer, please contact me at michelle(at)michellesblog.net or ping me in the Twittosphere at http://www.twitter.com/michelle_greer.

    Feb 07

    Should We Trust Open Source to Politicians Who Use “The Google”?

    So apparently people want to know why Whurley would post a poll for what presidential candidate is best for open source. If you are too lazy to click on that link, basically open source software helps the small businesses that drive our economy. From a more personal perspective, we use open source everyday. Whether you are like me and blog using WordPress, or crack open Firefox windows, or use one of the millions (billions?) of websites running on Apache or written in PHP, you benefit from open source projects. How many people and to what extent do we benefit from the companies, non-profits, blogs, databases, government sites, and billions of other applications that use open source projects? A President should consider these issues in an annual budget and will have to appoint judges that understand intellectual property issues. Do we really want to have to work around laws made by people who understand the internets as a series of tubes? Should we look to a leader who uses “the Google”? I don’t think so. Can the President set a tone (and a budget) for how technology and open source can improve the lives of every American and every person? Absolutely.

    So here is the poll on which candidate you believe would best serve the open source community. You don’t have to register or wait in line this time. You just have to select a candidate by February 12th and your vote will be tallied on opensville the following day.

    opensville

    Do you like this post? Get the code to embed this poll in your blog or website here and the stats will feed to the opensville blog.