The New “Open”

The use of the word “open” as an adjective in front of an unexpected noun is ever expanding. At least it seems that way sometimes. It began of course with the coinage of the term *open source*, as in open source software. The *source* in that instance is the source code for the software, which is distinct from the compiled, binary code that one actually runs when using software. Source code looks something like this:

if (user clicks on this)
then (do this)

Whereas, what the computer actually needs in order to understand that is something that looks like this:


Which means that even if the binary code for a piece of software was open to its users, it couldn’t do them much good.

The idea behind open source software is fundamentally that you should not only be able to use a piece of software, to do whatever it is you want to do, but also to be able to improve it or at least modify it to make it do what you need it to do. What this idea enabled was tens of thousands of people all around the world, suddenly able to communicate (and thus able to form a community) thanks to the internet, to do was to collaborate in a new way to make an entire software ecosystem. (See Eric Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar”.)

Their first steps, in turn, inspired others and the *open access* movement was born. (My friend [Jason Jackson][jbj] is not only really articulate about this, he also puts his money where his mouth is every day.) Open access is an attempt to make important sources of knowledge available, accessible, to anyone interested and with a small modicum of resources, especially access to the internet. In many cases, open access stands in opposition to traditional, in the historical sense of that word, venues for knowledges distribution which are often tied to third parties like commercial publishers who collect a huge markup for being middle men.

In the era of a worldwide communications network, the middle is no longer needed as vessel. Other middles — reviewers and editors and UI designers — remain important in many ways. The publishing and scholarly worlds are still trying to figure out how to maintain one middle without the other. Some just want to pay for the necessary infrastructure; others of course seek to profit as much as they can.

*Open source* and *open access* have inspired the coinage of a lot of other *opens*. By far the most interesting one to me is the idea of *open innovation*. [Glyn Moody’s Slideshare presentation][gm] does a nice job of encapsulating the idea, which is also the basis for a number of recent books and the professional careers of a lot of pundits/consultants. (I really need to figure out how to become one of those.) I have embedded the slides below — it’s a Flash package, sorry. 25 slides. Less than five minutes.