October 2009

"If content is king, then conversion is queen."

John Munsell, CEO of Bizzuka

Social Media, also known as Web 3.0, is not your granddaddy's Internet. How it is used is in a constant state of change. The rising tide of expectations, together with innovation, are pushing various platforms, especially in mobile technology. Mobile has become a compelling format to interface with the Internet, bringing a new spin to the phrase One Laptop Left Behind.

We believe that the degree to which open source communities embrace mobile and Social Media technologies dictates their relevance to the general public. We also believe that open source and Social Media communities can learn and benefit from each other. This article explores the increasingly intersecting worlds of Social Media, mobile, and open source. We describe how Social Media has the potential to change the way communities use and create open source tools to better align with end-user expectations.

Open Source Compared to Social Media

We define Social Media as a network or community where people with similar interests share information using accessible and scalable publishing techniques. Social Media transforms individuals from passive content consumers to active content producers. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube are all examples of Social Media. Until recently, Social Media tools were rarely released under open source licenses, meaning that users could use, but not necessarily modify or distribute the tools.

Open Source for America defines open source as a collaborative development model for software creation. It harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process to develop code that is freely accessible and released under an open source license. Open source draws on a community of distributed developers to drive innovation. The fundamental philosophy shared by open source developers is that the power of collective thinking is greater than that of the individual.

In Open Source is a Company; Social Media is a Country, Wired Magazine writer Chris Anderson categorizes the difference between open source and Social Media as a simple comparison of political systems. He argues that open source is similar to a company which is run in a top-down and structured manner, whereas Social Media is a more bottom-up approach akin to a country run in a democratic model. The contrast is that a company provides a common purpose while a country serves the people.

Chris points out that open source projects are mistakenly perceived as self-organized and democratic. The reality is that they are driven by a clear and focused vision. In contrast, people who utilize Social Media are not following any direction or dictate.

It is important to note that both management styles provide inherent benefits. The compelling question is: "How can open source benefit from the type of freedoms provided by Social Media?". The answers to this question are still unfolding and require us to go beyond thinking of open source and Social Media as polar opposites in terms of their structure and the freedoms they provide.

In the comments section of the Wired article, William Hertling states: "What both open source and social media have in common is that they both tend to be meritocracies. The great leaders in open source are followed voluntarily because they have proved their merit as designers, visionaries, or organizers. Similarly, Social Media recognizes those who make substantial contributions: contributors voluntarily link to other contributors who make worthwhile contributions".

Mobile, Open Source and Social Media

When everything started to go digital, companies increased their protections on how they did business internally, creating barriers to protect their source code. As the quality and popularity of open source projects increased, the ever growing mainstream trend to move to open source made more companies realize that the cost of innovation and competition may be too much compared with competitors that use open source software. This trend is now being seen in the mobile market.

Google's Android, built using Linux, began as a closed source software project which was eventually released as open source. Developers can now create their own applications on top of Android's platform and distribute their own Android-like products. In June, 2009, Rogers of Canada launched their own Android phone HTC Dream which includes social networking tools such as Facebook. During the first half of 2009, the Symbian Foundation launched. It is a non-profit organization founded by Nokia, Sony Ericsson, NTT DoCoMo, Texas Instruments, Vodafone, Samsung, ST Ericsson and AT&T. Their stated goal is to "bring to life a shared vision to create the most proven, open and complete mobile software platform - and to make it available for free". They plan to release the Symbian mobile phone operating system under the open source Eclipse Public License.

By 2010, it is expected that four billion people will have joined the global mobile conversation. Mobile companies realize that an entire generation's first Internet, camera, music player and phone experiences will all be on a mobile device.

Growth of Open Source and Social Media

In a study conducted by Gartner and reported by Matt Asay at CNET, CIOs report that they have increased investment in open source software and decreased investment in proprietary software. By investing in open source, they are able to:

  • reduce costs by 87% (while meeting or exceeding expectations)

  • improve quality by 92%

  • ease integration and customization by 86%

  • quicken pace of innovation by 82%

  • improve support by 84%

  • increase standards compliance by 91%

  • decrease time to market by 82%

Open source has the luxury of continual user feedback and collaboration to help design software that meets the requirements of business, users and developers. Communication is also the essence of Social Media, as the goal of a social network is a user-driven and -managed experience through community creation. A social network offers community interaction where people of similar interests can connect to share ideas and experiences. Social Media's ease of use results in a greater number of users collaborating and interacting, compared to the number of users seen in a typical open source community.

Danah Boyd of Alternet highlights the social networking value of Social Media: "Many of us in this room see social network sites as a modern-day incarnation of the public sphere. Politicians log in to these sites to connect with constituents and hear their voices. Campaign managers and activists try to rally people through these sites. Market researchers try to get a sense of people's opinions through these sites. Educators try to connect with students and build knowledge-sharing communities".

The Social Media Revolution video summarizes the growth and impact of Social Media. It includes statistics such as:

  • one in every twenty Internet visits in the US is to one of the top twenty social networking sites, representing a growth rate twice that of a year ago

  • 85% of Canadians regularly visit a social networking site with 63% regularly visiting a blog

Businesses and organizations are starting to see the value and strength found in the large populations that can be reached using Social Media. Corporations are moving beyond a restricted information sharing model to a more open approach that communicates through Social Media platforms.

Marketing Through Social Media

An April, 2009 Forrester Research report entitled The Future of the Social Web predicted tremendous growth for Social Media Marketing budgets. The next four years are expected to see a rise of 34% in expenditures, outstripping both email and mobile marketing.

The Comscore presentation at Podcamp 2009 discussed the Social Media context:

  • 24 million Canadians use Facebook at least once a month (out of a total population of under 34 million) and the average Facebook use is 46 hours per month

  • 85% of Canadians view streaming video with an average of 120 videos per month per viewer

  • MySpace has 70 million US users

  • daily Internet use among youth increased from 24% to 40% between 2007 and 2008; TV usage for the same period increased from 28% to 29%

The importance of Social Media cannot be dismissed as a passing phase. It represents a real disruptive technology that is probably waiting for a real killer application. Some believe that application is Facebook, but only time will tell.

The Future of Open Social Media

An excellent example of the open source and Social Media worlds combining is the launch of Google Wave at the Google IO 2009 Conference. According to Google: "Google Wave is a real-time communication platform. It combines aspects of email, instant messaging, wikis, web chat, social networking, and project management to build one elegant, in-browser communication client. You can bring a group of friends or business partners together to discuss how your day has been or share files".

Features include:

Real-time support: in most instances, you can see what someone else is typing, character-by-character.

Embedability: waves can be embedded on any blog or website.

Applications and extensions: developers can build their own applications within waves. These can be anything from simple bots to complex real-time games.

Wiki functionality: anything written within a Google Wave can be edited by anyone else because all conversations within the platform are shared. You can correct and append information, or add your own commentary within a developing conversation.

Open source license: Google Wave code will be released as open source in order to foster innovation and adoption amongst developers.

Playback: you can playback any part of the wave to see what was said.

Natural language: Google Wave can autocorrect spelling, even going as far as knowing the difference between similar words, like "been" and "bean." It can also auto-translate on-the-fly.

Drag-and-drop file sharing: there are no attachments. Drag a file and drop it inside Google Wave and everyone will have access.

According to Adam Ostrow of Mashable, Google Wave provides the following benefits:

1) it's editable, meaning the audience you're sharing the embed with can make changes

2) it's drag and drop, so that same audience can also easily add content

3) it can be played back, so you can see how the Wave has evolved over time.

Taking all of these features into consideration, it is possible that the Wave could become a new type of commenting system for the Web.

Pushan Banerjee provides another summary. The wave itself is here.

Final Thoughts

We believe that as developers continue to integrate Social Media's usability and interactivity into their development practices, the two worlds of open source and Social Media will become more entwined. More businesses and organizations will adopt both open source and Social Media technologies to accomplish their goals and produce opportunities for the future.  Social Media will continue its growth as a popular communication tool and, over time, more Social Media tools will be released under open source licenses.

Recommended Resources

Facebook in Reality

Open Source and Social Media: Community, Collaboration, Freedom

Social Media Stats & Quotes


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