When people hear that I help others get more power by giving up their ideas, they don’t understand or they don’t believe it at first, and next, they look at me suspiciously.
Doing open source sounds stupid in the capitalist society we live in. Maybe developers and geeks can get away with it with their software or hardware. But that’s not “what a responsible business would do.”
“Open Source is for activists and hobbyists”, or “My startup can’t do it. If I put my product in open source my competition will copy me and kill my profits.”
But that’s missing the forest behind the tree.
The power of open source lies in attracting and gathering a community that wants to innovate with you much better than you could on your own. And you don’t need to put the thing you sell in open source to achieve this goal.
There are other powerful ways Open Source can benefit you.
In fact, if you keep reading, you can find below a few mainstream companies that you probably don’t suspect of doing open source collaboration.
They open source a lot of stuff they don’t sell directly, and it makes a lot of sense for them to share their inventions than to keep behind closed doors. And it also makes a lot of sense for their communities and their competitors to contribute.
Let’s check six of these companies, why they do it and how they benefit:
Tesla: Opening to build a huge infrastructure with others
In 2014, Tesla made all of its patents available for other manufacturers to copy.
Why did they do it?
They make electric cars, and unlike gas-fueled cars that have a wide network of fuel distributors across the world, it’s harder to find electric chargers for electric cars.
And creating the necessary infrastructure of chargers is a super expensive endeavour for a startup, even if it’s well funded like Tesla is.
So to hack this, they offered their patents so other companies interested in developing electric cars could save money and time developing their own chargers. In exchange, they would benefit from others helping build the infrastructure of chargers their car needs, making their cars even more attractive and cheap to sell.
The GAFAM: Sharing their tools and courses in open source
Amazon has recently shared the Machine Learning courses they use to teach exclusively the company’s engineers.
Why would they do that? Just because there is a lack of offer of machine learning engineers, and experts are very expensive. And they could use a lot more machine learning experts to keep improving their retail pages, products, fulfillment technologies, stores.
So releasing the course for free allows three things for Amazon.
1/ The course will attract those who want to learn this skill to them, attracting among these people great candidates
2/ These new engineers are taught to the standards Amazon is setting, which help position their practices in the machine learning industry for years to come
3/ To make money on those who want to be certified for professional purposes
Microsoft recently put 60,000 of its patents in open source.
Google has built up copious amounts of goodwill with developers for its contributions of Kubernetes, a tool for automating the deployment, scaling and management of applications, and TensorFlow, a software used for machine learning applications such as neural networks. By releasing both of these softwares in open source, Google has unlocked tremendous value for a broad swath of the developer population. And in return it has gotten developers to use their frameworks and improve them with bug cleaning or new use cases they can use back for their own product.
By releasing Android in open source they have also gotten to completely dominate the smartphone market (88% of the world used Android smartphones in 2018) and sell other services through the app marketplaces or get data that reinforces their advertising business model.
As Techrepublic puts it, Facebook is probably the biggest open source actor in the world. It shares lots of its frameworks like React, their hardware products through Open Compute or Oculus, or their Data infrastructure tools in open source so other developers can use it for themselves, find new use case, and help them make it better to develop a better platform.
So Facebook is not making any money from selling their open source software or related services like maintenance or support. But it’s using it as a strong foundation to sustain over $10 billion in annual revenue generated by its platform.
Apple also released its programming language Swift in open source. This decision to make it open accelerated the adoption and development of their language. By 2017 Swift became one of the top 10 most popular programming languages in the world.
Why do these companies do it?
They do it to share a problem they have, but that would be easier to solve with others.
Because their competitive advantage doesn’t lie in their tools. It lies in building a product their customers need, in hiring great people, in creating a great brand, marketing and distribution channels or in creating great operational teamwork.
Just giving their tools to the competition isn’t enough for the competition to compete with the creators. On the contrary. When sharing your tools and knowledge with your competition, they will generally enrich it and spread it much faster than you could on your own. So the one who gives most ends up benefiting the most as well.
Despite its tools being put in open source, Microsoft’s Windows is still used by most people, Tesla, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple still make tens of billions of dollars in ad revenues or in retail sales. And so are many other big organisations sharing their tools and data in open source: Uber, Baidu, Twitter, Netflix…
But you’re not a software or hardware developer, so how does this apply to you?
You can share other things.
Other companies outside of software or hardware technology are starting to share their processes and designs in open source so they can improve their own internal processes, create new industrial standards and get other organisations to help them spread their impact. Companies like Levi’s is open sourcing their procedures to diminish water waste in textile production and Disney is planning on open sourcing their sustainable packaging, and non-profits like Let’s Do It have shared openly their toolkits with local leaders to clean up entire countries.
If these organisations are exploring this new open path, why wouldn’t you?
Can you imagine how much faster we could develop a sustainable world if all organisations like Patagonia, Interface or permaculture pioneers shared their internal methodologies and shared them with other companies, experts, and students? How easier would it be for them to support their ecologic claims? Or how much easier it would be for them to reach their zero-emissions goals and spread it to other organisations? Or even find great employees among the communities that contribute to the improvement of their open projects?
As you can see, putting the tools procedures and software they use to create their products, doesn’t diminish the value of their products.
In fact it makes their products more valuable by getting tools that are improved collectively with the community of developers that surround them.
If you shared it, would others love to have access to it? And could the collaborations of others help you develop your project or reach your mission faster?
If yes, share the ideas you’d like to explore opening in the comments below. And if you think it wouldn’t work, could you share what obstacles you think would make it impossible? Would love to see your take on this. 🙂