Federated Is the Future for Open Source

In his remarks to this year’s OSCON, Tim O’Reilly makes the interesting assertion that “federated is the future for open source”. His assertion comes out of his interest in the internet as the next operating system. His example makes the point very clearly (paraphrased):

Imagine yourself out with friends and you decide to get a pizza. What do you do? If you have one of the new smart phones [by which he means iPhone or Android], you can quite literally put the thing to you mouth and speak the word pizza into an app and it will search for places to eat pizza that also happen to be nearby.

The technologies involved are quite astonishing: touch sensors (to activate the app) motion sensors (the device has to know you are moving it up to your head to know to turn on the microphone), a GPS radio (to know where you are), and a microwave radio (to transmit your request).

But the technology doesn’t end there: the speech recognition is not being done on your phone in many instances but “in the cloud” as is the cross-indexing of eateries and your location. All of this is assembled into some form of text — HTML or otherwise — and then sent back to your handset, which now offers you a range of options.

Amazing stuff. But even more amazing is that really how Google, for example, know how to understand your spoken request is because they have a pretty good sense of what goes with what. They are, after all, in the search business as well. It’s all this data that makes it possible to give you not just an answer but a semantically-rich and appropriate one.

Obviously, the more you can cross-pollinate these various data sets, the more interesting your results will be and the more kind of innovation become possible. But Google owns its (your) searches and Facebook owns its (your) social graphs. Given that the current trend is in this direction, O’Reilly asks the pressing question of where does the open source community go when a lot of these companies are built on open source — Google runs on Linux after all and gives away a lot of the software it developes — but the data itself remains beyond our reach?

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