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O'Reilly Network: Gated Open Source Communities?

Jul 07, 2000, 18:54 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tim O'Reilly)

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"This report in Upside Today suggests that big software companies are attracted by the "gated community" model - unsurprisingly as it seems to be classic "help us debug our software and we'll keep the copyright, thanks". Upside (in my opinion, naively) presumes that because this idea is attractive to software companies, who will invest in it, it's obviously going to take off. But is this likely? Who works for gated community projects, and why? If it's just for the "bounty" isn't this just programmers working as contractors? Surely for there to be any special open source goodness, these projects must attract collaboration over and above that which is payed for. But are they? And why should I contribute to a gated community rather than a true open source one?..."

"Since I was the one who started spreading the "gated community" meme (though I didn't originate it), I thought I should take a little time to explain it more fully."

"The best way to do so is with a concrete example. O'Reilly uses a fairly obscure software package for publishers, called CISpub, to control our order entry, shipping, warehousing, and accounting. There are at most a few hundred other users of this package, which is written in Pick Basic. Each customer has access to source code, and many of us have made extensive modifications to the underlying package to make it better fit our business. For example, we added support for EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) with our third-party warehouse, with book wholesaler Ingram, and with retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. What we don't have is the right to redistribute those enhancements, or any mechanism for doing so."

"This is a perfect situation for a "gated open source community." Sure, it might be nice if the vendor were to give away the source code to anyone who wanted it. It could even be the case that by doing so, the vendor could acquire some additional customers from people who downloaded the software for free. But frankly, I think it's fairly unlikely. It's also unlikely that there would be contributions from anyone other than the current user base. This is a specialized package written in a specialized language for a specialized industry segment."

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