Google: The Meaning Of Open

I liked one of Google’s recent blog posts about “The Meaning of Open“.

Below is a summary of that article:

  • At Google we believe that open systems win.
  • They lead to more innovation, value, and freedom of choice for consumers, and a vibrant, profitable, and competitive ecosystem for businesses.
  • There are two components to our definition of open: open technology and open information.
    • Open technology includes open source, meaning we release and actively support code that helps grow the Internet, and open standards, meaning we adhere to accepted standards and, if none exist, work to create standards that improve the entire Internet (and not just benefit Google).
    • Open information means that when we have information about users we use it to provide something that is valuable to them, we are transparent about what information we have about them, and we give them ultimate control over their information.
  • The conventional wisdom goes that companies should lock in customers to lock out competitors.
  • There are different tactical approaches — razor companies make the razor cheap and the blades expensive, while the old IBM made the mainframes expensive and the software … expensive too.There are different tactical approaches — razor companies make the razor cheap and the blades expensive, while the old IBM made the mainframes expensive and the software … expensive too.
    • They can also deliver well-designed products in the short run — the iPod and iPhone being the obvious
    • examples — but eventually innovation in a closed system tends towards being incremental at best (is a four blade razor really that much better than a three blade one?)
  • In an open system, a competitive advantage doesn’t derive from locking in customers, but rather from understanding the fast-moving system better than anyone else and using that knowledge to generate better, more innovative products.
  • Open systems have the potential to spawn industries. They harness the intellect of the general population and spur businesses to compete, innovate, and win based on the merits of their products and not just the brilliance of their business tactics. The race to map the human genome is one example.
  • Networks have always depended on standards to flourish. When railroad tracks were first being laid across the U.S. in the early 19th century, there were seven different standards for track width. The network didn’t flourish and expand west until the different railway companies agreed upon a standard width of 4′ 8.5″. (In this case the standards war was an actual war: Southern railroads were forced to convert over 11,000 miles of track to the new standard after the Confederacy lost to the Union in the Civil War.)
  • Next, we need to make it easy for users to find out what information we gather and store about them across all of our products.
  • Finally, we must always give control to the user.
  • Closed systems are well-defined and profitable, but only for those who control them.
  • Open systems are chaotic and profitable, but only for those who understand them well and move faster than everyone else. Closed systems grow quickly while open systems evolve more slowly, so placing your bets on open requires the optimism, will, and means to think long term.