It used to be said that open source is purely a commodifying force in the software industry, that open source can't innovate. While we've had Mozilla Firefox and other projects to demonstrate open-source innovation, the impression nonetheless persists.
One way to crush the idea completely is for open source to help shape a new market, rather than influence an old market. Online video, despite 14.3 billion videos watched online in December 2008 in the United States alone, according to ComScore, is a nascent market with no 800-pound gorillas building the industry in their image.
Online video is up for grabs.
Shay David, co-founder and chief technology officer of Kaltura, an open-source video company (disclosure: I am an adviser to Kaltura), believes that open source is the key to creating a robust, innovative online video market:
For anyone who is part of the video universe, the key question that remains open is what drives value in this brave new world. How can publishers, advertisers, and technology enablers make money in a world in which delivery (CDN) is commoditized, display opportunities are abundant (driving CPMs for video advertising down), and audiences expect to get everything for free? The short answer, I believe, is to focus on innovation--of formats, user experiences, content, or delivery.
And here is where open-source video enters the picture: It is a development methodology and distribution strategy that allows each company in the ecosystem to focus on what it does best, instead of replicating the efforts of others. Open-source video...is being adopted at every level of the ecosystem by industry leaders such as Akamai, Mozilla, and Wikipedia.
Its premise is simple: Video is too important of a medium to be controlled by a single player. By espousing the principles of openness at all levels, including formats, technology, and content, and by collaborating in the development process, video can enjoy the force multipliers that we have seen in other areas of open-source software. The result is a better user experience, a reduction in the total cost of ownership, and a focus on innovative value-driven results.
I agree, and I believe that Kaltura and other open-source video companies and projects, some which have banded together to form the Open Video Alliance, have the opportunity to prove that open source can not only innovate, but also surpass proprietary software and proprietary standards in innovation.
It's a bold ambition, one that also could be applied to OpenX in online advertising, MySQL in Web-centric databases, and other areas. I don't know that open source is necessarily the best solution to every problem, but it certainly seems to be a viable, free-market alternative to how our industry has traditionally formed: one big vendor corners the market, and we spend decades trying to get out of its grip.
In open-source video, we have the means to foster an open industry, one that lets individual developers focus on their respective core competencies, while customers get lower costs and reduced lock-in. Sign me up.
Disclosure: I am an advisor to Kaltura.
Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.