My long time friend Alan Shimel has been blogging up a storm on Network World (if you want to hear any amusing story, ask him about the first time he met me.) When Alan started writing his column for Network World he asked me for introductions to a bunch of our portfolio companies that were using open source. Alan is a tough critic and calls it like he sees it so while I knew there was no guarantee that he’d go easy on the companies, I knew that Alan would do an even handed job of highlighting their strengths and weaknesses. I also know that everyone I invest in values any kind of feedback – both good and bad – and they work especially hard to delight their customers so any kind of feedback will make them better.
Earlier today, Alan wrote an article on Standing Cloud titled Seeding the Cloud with Open Source, Standing Cloud Makes It Easy. On Monday, Standing Cloud released their first version of their product (called the Trial Edition) which is a free version that lets you install and work with around 30 open source products on five different cloud service providers. It’s the first step in a series of releases over the next two quarters that Standing Cloud has planned as they work create an environment where it is trivial to deploy and manage open source applications in the cloud. Alan played around with Standing Cloud’s Trial Edition, totally understood what they are doing, and explained why the Trial Edition is interesting and where Standing Cloud is heading when they release their Community Edition at the end of April.
Alan’s also written several other articles about companies in our portfolio recently, including the open source work Gist has been doing with Twitter and a great review of the Pogoplug and how it uses open source.
I believe I’m one of the people that inspired Alan to start blogging a number of years ago. Through his personal blog Ashimmy, the blog he writes for Network World titled Open Source Face and Fiction, and the blogging he does on security.exe (his company CISO Group’s blog), Alan is one of my must read technology bloggers. And he’s often funny as hell, especially when he gets riled up. Keep it up Alan!
I’m an investor in Bug Labs (personally, not through our funds). When I first met with Peter Semmelhack, the CEO, on an introduction from Fred Wilson (the lead investor) I immediately got it. After about 15 minutes, I said to Peter something to the effect of “ah – today’s version of the Healthkit.”
Peter’s vision was that in addition to being a completely open source hardware product that allows you to prototype any consumer electronics device (or – more simply – any “electronic gadget”), all the software and design would be “open.”
Bug has just announced that they will be working with IDEO to redesign the user interaction of the product out in the open. This is more than an open source software project – it’s actually a public hardware UI redesign that involves anyone in the Bug community.
I love the notion of the open source hardware movement as it is completely in line with the Ph.D. research I did at MIT under Eric von Hippel. Bug Labs agrees and actually created the BUGvonHippel module to honor Eric!
Kevin Kelleher’s article on GigaOm this morning titled 2009: Year of the Hacker made me think back to the rise of open source after the Internet crash of 2001. In the aftermath of the crash, many experienced software developers were out of work for a period of time ranging from weeks to years. Some of them threw themselves into open source projects and, in some cases, created their next job with the expertise they developed around a particular open source project.
We are still in a tense and ambiguous part of the current downturn where, while many developers are getting laid off, some of them are immediately being picked back up by other companies that are in desperate need for them. However, many other developers are not immediately finding work. If the downturn gets worse, the number of out of work developers increases.
If they take a lesson from the 2001 – 2003 time frame, some subset of them will choose to get deeply in an open source related project. Given the range of established open source projects, the opportunity to do this today is much more extensive than it was seven years ago. In addition, most software companies – especially Internet-related ones – now have robust API’s and/or open source libraries that they actively encourage third parties to work with for free. The SaaS-based infrastructure that exists along with maturing source code repositories add to the fun. The ability to hack something interesting together based on an established company’s infrastructure is omnipresent and is one of the best ways to “apply for a job” at an interesting company.
We are thinking hard about how to do this correctly at a number of our new investments, including companies like Oblong, Gnip, and a new cloud-computing related startup we are funding in January. Of course, many of our older investments such as NewsGator and Rally Software already have extensive API libraries and actively encourage developers to work with them. And of course, there are gold standards of open source projects like my friends at WordPress and masters of the API like Twitter.
If you are a developer and want help engaging with any of these folks, or have ideas about how this could work better, feel free to drop me an email.