What’s qw( del.icio.us OSS Web2.0 love ) got to do with it?

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I know I said that I didn’t have time for a real post on Jeff Nolan’s del.icio.us Vs del.irio.us post, but there are a couple of things that I’ve got to get out of my head if I’m to get any sleep tonight.

So I’ve got a little twist on my usual “go read the original item now” message: go read Jeff Nolan’s post, and also go read the bubblegeneration post that Jeff links to. You may choose which one to read first. Doesn’t really matter to me.

Now…the first thing that’s bugging me is this sentence in Jeff’s post: “The issues with open source copies of proprietary software strikes me as an economic race to the bottom that hurts us all.” Am I supposed to read this as a suggestion that a closed source copy of proprietary software would somehow be better? That such a copy would be less of an economic race to the bottom?

While I find Steve Mallett’s baldfaced “oooh…me, too!” approach to copying del.icio.us grating (Steve, you could at least have come up with your own clever site naming convention), his decision to open the source for this project has no real effect on my view. If anything, I could probably be convinced to argue that Steve sees offering the source code for de.lirio.us as a possible strategic advantage over del.icio.us, since the current user base is fairly tech oriented and could see access to source code as a real benefit.

This leads into the second thing that I can’t come to terms with — Umair’s Q&A: “Why don’t dot com 2.0 players build imitation barriers? I think, to a large extent, because strategy is not really on the agenda – technology is.” It’s true that Joshua Schacter was probably thinking something like “wow…this is a neat idea…I wonder whether I can make it work?” when designing del.icio.us, rather than “how can I incorporate imitation barriers into this idea, on the off chance that it becomes popular and I have the opportunity to make some money from it?” That said, I’m not entirely clear on what a feasible “imitation barrier” would be in any of the cases that Umair cites.

Putting business model patents aside, the only effective barrier that I can see for explicitly social software (a label which covers all of Umair’s cases) is having a user base that’s actively contributing information to your repository, and believes that they’re getting data that they could not find elsewhere back out in return.

ESS derives its value from a combination of the software’s features and the users’ collective data pool; where one evaluates an OS or a Web server based on its features, reliability, cost relative to similar offerings, etc., ESS is evaluated based on who and what it exposes you to. Features play a significant role in that, of course, but without interesting people and things in the pool, even the best toolset in the world is useless.

Maybe that’s where this “dot com 2.0” or “Web 2.0” deal is different from the initial release (or maybe this is all just another beta…that water has gotten pretty muddy in recent years). Let’s say that v1.0 was about making your own stuff — and a lot of it — and trying your hardest to come up with ways to lock people in to your stuff. Perhaps, then, v2.0 really is about facilitating the widespread and accessible creation, sharing, and discovery of…um, stuff. Maybe all this talk about a “long tail” really does signal the kind of massive change in mindset that seems essential for this to work.

That’d be nice. We’ll see how it goes.

  • Hi,

    You’re right – I doubt Josh S was worrying about strategy when building del.icio.us.

    My point was that this is a great test case – because he received funding at almost exactly the same time as he got ripped off.

    Now, presumably, his backer will be interested in imitation barriers, and doubly so because of del.irio.us. So can they build some?

    I’m not sure – that’s the interesting part. It’s as close to a lab scenario for closed+funding vs open+community as you could get.

    You talked about a knowledge pool as an imitation barrier. That’s a great idea. I’d be thinking about complements to build scope economies, building scale through alliances, extending (open) standards, and building in much stronger network FX to raise switching costs…

  • Hi, Umair —

    Thanks for the additional thoughts! I’m In CA and pretty tied up until Monday (introducing my daughter to her great-grandparents), but this is all rolling around in my head in a very interesting way, and I’m looking forward to talking more about it.

    – W