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Dec 2010

Will creating open-source software hurt a small business?

Posted in Business tactics, Technology | 0 Comments

Sometimes you’ll run into the odd company who’ll just strike you as some of the most selfless people on the planet. I’m not talking about charities, businesses with a single philanthropist at the top, or contractors building schools in Africa, though all of those quality as selfless. I’m talking about the people who create some of the most important high-quality software on the planet, and then give it away for free for people to customise, re-use and send to their friends for all eternity.

So why do this, you ask? Why give away software when you can sell it? From a business perspective, it seems like suicide, and I’d be inclined to agree with you if there weren’t so many success stories. In fact, I’m using one of them right now. My computer at work runs on Ubuntu, an OS based on GNU/Linux. It’s fast, it’s customisable and most importantly, it’s completely free. I’d honestly argue that, if Mac OSX had never come into existence, I’d be using this over Windows without a second thought.

At first, I was sceptical. “A free operating system? God, this is going to be horrid,” I mused to myself. Within a day I was blown away by the thousands of programs available, the speed, and the fact that the taskbar was made by one team of people, and the clock was made by another. A patchwork creation brought to life by a community of people determined to give back to a community who, through Linux and other projects, had already given them so much.

Back in 1991, when computers weren’t generally something you turned phones into and Wi-Fi sounded about as capable and reliable as Scotch mist (not much has changed, then), a Finnish student by the name of Linus Torvalds began to create an operating system. He then uploaded an early version, stating that it was a free project and anyone could use it or contribute to it. Many people did, and it evolved into the IT community’s love-child. Had he sold it for a smaller price than Windows once it reached a saleable level of quality, he’d be a millionaire, at the very least. But he stuck to his community-shaped guns and went for broke, quite literally.

If you’re a small business and you make software for niche purposes – perhaps an archive system with a USP – then you could be attracting a community around your product. There are many advantages to this, most notably a hold on that particular market, and high traffic levels to your website if the niche is becoming ever more popular (remember micro-blogging before Twitter exploded? No, nor do I, but to say it never existed before then is ridiculous conjecture, at best).

Try this. Make the software open source, and offer the community the chance to do some of the work with you – they’re probably already suggesting fixes or even hacks to fix things you either weren’t aware were broken or that you don’t have the time or the resources to fix yourself. I say with, and not for, because they’re not your employees, and in most cases, programmers who take the time out of their own days to help yours are just as much a part of the team, though the phrase becomes ever more ephemeral as a result.

It’s a risk, but you’d be surprised at how popular you become once you give people the chance to download it free from your site. Not only does it render piracy of your software completely redundant (who would you rather download from? A random dodgy site, or the company itself?), it also makes for some impressive advertising revenue. Not forgetting donations, of course, and you’d be surprised at how many people do actually donate to keep something they love going.

The open source community are not those evil little [expletive deleted] who pirate software packages. They’re valuable members of the online community who contribute their personal resources – time being one of them, in addition to money – to making your software better. No one’s taking your rights to the software away, and no one is legally allowed to sell the distribution itself, so you’re safe there. Combine that with a bit of social networking to build your community into an army of little open-hearted archivers, and you’ve got a philanthropic business that still makes a good amount of money.

Huzzah – it’s not suicide, it’s just smart and forward thinking. Look at Android, and free Apps, and tell me there’s more people downloading the paid versions. Can’t? Exactly.

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Aug 2010

What has Bing advert overload done to us?

Posted in Business tactics, Social Media | 0 Comments

Not sure about you, but the Bing adverts have, as of late, become one of my most despised advertising campaigns. The endless noise and dubious message that any other search engine is going to give you unrelated results, and the implication that we’ve all seemingly got some kind of mental disorder where tangential conversation techniques are the only way to go.

Allow me to de-bunk this marketing campaign, if you will.

First off, take a look at these figures. These were released in July 2010 – before and during the “information overload” advert campaign, which is still   going. Yahoo’s share of the UK search engine market has fallen by a couple percent, leaving it third to Bing.

This all sounds hunky-dory until you consider that their combined market share is still equivalent to what it was before. Bing has consumed part of Yahoo’s slice of the online pie, but Google’s still got the same amount of pastry, crumbs and cherries in sauce it had a year ago. Dominance over the market second-comer is not an achievement, not when you’re supplying the search technology for your competitor and their market share was below 5% to begin with.

But the advert asks an interesting question: what has information overload done to us? This is a valid question, and one that it’s taken a Microsoft ad campaign to make us ask of ourselves. Personally, information overload now means I’m learning more than I was ten years ago in my spare time. It means I can research and reference in the space of a minute, and nothing is too complex now as sites covering a single subject help us to study along a gradient of complexity.

Google has, unfortunately for Microsoft’s Bing engine, sealed the market shut, and if in ten years it became the West’s only search engine I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. After all, it works well for what I need it to. Make sure you’re preferring UK results (especially when shopping), stick Safesearch to strict to filter out the waves of immaturity in Google Images, and you’re laughing.

But what if it didn’t work so well? The problem with a monopolistic market share in technology is that consumers tend to flail in panic, en masse, when something goes seriously wrong. Take the iPhone 4, for example. One moment it’s the Messiah, the next we’ve digitally lynch-mobbed Apple to the point that the man at the head of the operation “decided to leave”.

“Digital lynching” is an interesting phrase, and one a colleague coined recently. Apple’s Anntennagate martyr, and HP’s CEO are suffering from the same melodramatic backlash from the public – social media tirades. Twitter has become the new forum for slamming public figureheads, and trending and hash-tags allow this to happen. But are big jobs suffering for it? If Google’s Android system is successfully sued and the funding goes down the toilet, the OS with it, will Twitter turn on Oracle, or Google?

It brings me back to thinking about Bing. Is it a good thing? Do we need a wider choice? I’d say so. Google’s a fantastic search engine, but when one company gets a monopolistic hold on the market, almost no one holds a hand up and says “stop”. However, if it was to happen in government, there’d be protests on the streets.

Tyranny is no different in business, the only change is that your money’s going to Apple for your phone, Microsoft (or Apple again) for your computer and Oyster for your travel (if you’re in London), rather than paying your taxes to whichever party is currently dominating the ballot box. Are we now more subsceptible to marketing than we ever were? Is Bing just another pusher? What has information overload done to us?

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Jan 2010

Do Androids Dream of Google Phones?

Posted in Business tactics, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Rumor has it the estate of the late author, Philip K Dick, has issued a cease and desist to the Google conglomeration over their usage of the term ‘Nexxus’ for their new Google Phone. According to PC World online, Dick’s daughter find there is an obvious connection between the usage of Nexxus and her father’s book ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’. Seeing as the operating system used on the phone is called ‘Android’, one could argue that it’s not a huge leap from one to the other. Being a huge fan of the movie Blade Runner, I often find myself looking for tips of the cap in current movies, products, and books, either to Dick’s book or to the movie Blade Runner. You can easily find nods within the movie Minority Report (based on the 1958 book of the same name by Dick) to the noir style employed by Scott in BR. It’s easy to see the similarities in the fun and colorful Besson movie The Fifth Element, as well. As for products,  the light saber umbrella pictured here was the only product I could find before Google gave me one of these. I find myself tiring ever so quickly of the Google empire, but I did stumble across something fun on mashable this afternoon as I was getting ready to write this post. That’s one Google product I’d be willing to pay money for.

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