Adoption-Led as a Force of Nature
By webmink on Mar 13, 2008
In discussing how the software market is increasingly an adoption-led one, a frequent point of departure is to look at ways in which existing software companies are pursuing open source models.
Centralised to Distributed
But the idea that the adoption-led model is a go-to-market strategy created by software vendors is wrong. Although as Zack observes it has become a successful driver for some companies, it is fundamentally a consequence of a set of social changes which in turn are the consequence of the pervasive nature of the Internet. No amount of debate for and against an adoption-led business model will ever change the fact that the market is moving that way.
The first mechanised communications - dating back to before the Industrial Revolution - helped to create a hub-and-spoke social topology. The ability to communicate to a large number of people was necessarily centralised and recognition of authorship became more important. Interestingly, this is when copyright law first emerged. And as more communications became industrialised, so did society become more centralised. Author at the hub, readers at the spokes, suppliers at the hub, customers at the spokes, government at the hub, citizens at the spokes. The Web is changing that. The topology is changing to a mesh that even crosses cultures and borders. Peer-to-peer is the new order.
While the internet has existed for a relatively long time in technology terms, the Web as an application has driven it to ubiquity in a very short time. And this is what gave the equally long-standing Free software movement the vehicle it needed to influence the mainstream. The two together have placed a growing wealth of software within reach of every sufficiently skilled developer, giving them the freedom to use it however they wish. As Stormy points out, they can now bypass the whole existing system.
Demands a Response
It's this sudden wealth of choice which created the adoption-led movement that I described before. It didn't - and doesn't - need vendors to happen. Rather, it demands a response from vendors. Some try to ignore or to discredit it. Some pay lip-service to it, using its fruits but shunning true participation. And some embrace it, employing people to work within open source communities. Each of these approaches has business models associated. None of these approaches have themselves caused the adoption-led market to spring into existence.
Now, although this movement did not need vendors to make it happen, vendors have the opportunity to help it into the mainstream for business usage. As I suggested in my response to Savio, there's a lot of value that a vendor can add:
The model assumes that enterprise users will want the value-added content of a "subscription" or "enterprise version". Value-add can include patch management, performance tuning, additional utilities and more. Corporate governance regulations may make enterprises using software for a mission-critical purpose require a service contract, or seek a warranty for their software infrastructure. Those who are embedding software in their own product may require indemnification. Finally, many businesses are reluctant (for whatever reason) to use open source licenses and so want commercial licenses for their production systems.
To deliver on that value, it's my belief that the biggest opportunities lie beyond the mere aggregation of the work of others (although that does seem to be a viable option for some). I believe that through influencing the direction of a project, through employing committers to an open source code base, by creating new code, by being a responsible community steward and by bringing leadership to the challenges open source faces, a software vendor can take full advantage of the opportunities the adoption-led market presents. And I believe that success will be proportional to the contribution made. No free lunches, at least for those wanting job security.
Led, not Driven
This is the response of the software industry to the mesh topology. It's one where copyright, through open source licenses, is used to foster creativity, rather than to restrict access (and the inverse for patents - a reversal worth discussing elsewhere). We are moving from the "procurement-driven market" to the "adoption-led market". One is driven by vendors. The other is led by deployers and developers. That's the key, and I think other industries should examine with interest the lead that the software market is providing, since I expect the phenomenon to spread beyond software.