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Open sourcing the web

The web increasingly opens up to open source. Where is this going? Nobody knows....

Matt Asay Contributing Writer
Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.
Matt Asay

Maybe it was just a matter of time. Yesterday Reddit went open source, but it's not alone: Facebook, eBay, Google, and other web companies have increasingly opened their platforms in various ways to achieve competitive advantage.

I've been one of the most vociferous opponents of the web companies "free-riding" on the backs of "open-source 1.0 projects," but it's increasingly clear that this phenomenon was a moment in time. A brief one.

The packaged software industry took decades to determine that open source is a winning strategy. (No, Savio Rodrigues, I'm not suggesting that it has settled on a 100 percent open-source strategy.) The web? Maybe three or four years.

Are we rapidly getting to the point where everything, including the web, will be flavored with open source to greater and lesser degrees? I think the answer is an unequivocal "Yes."

In Reddit's case, Dave Rosenberg suggests that the goal of open-sourcing the code is not direct monetization but rather "ubiquity through proliferation." This would be consistent with a broad shift in how open-source companies leverage open source: Drive adoption and then find something else for which to charge money.

It works for Google. It works for Red Hat. Presumably it can work for Reddit, though Savio is right: It's not immediately apparent who will pick up the Reddit code and run with it.

In this grand experiment, however, it doesn't have to be.