Why David Beckham should not play for Team Open Source

David Beckham plays soccer. Sort of. Some companies claim to be open source. Sort of. Here's why both are bad for the game.

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
3 min read
He sometimes plays soccer, too. Metro

The United States has gone gaga for Becks and Posh this past year. Stadiums have been filled to capacity to see the once great player bring "football" to a country that still persists in believing that a game played with one's hands is the real football. Mostly they've just seen news reports of the Beckhams, as David Beckham has spent most of his time on the bench, injured.

It's just as well, since he hasn't been much good for several years. What is interesting to me, however, is how much Beckham reflects the worst in open-source hype.

Don't get me wrong. If you've ever read this blog before, you know that I'm a big open-source believer (and practitioner). What I don't like, however, is the johnny-come-lately crowd to open source, which treats it like a cheap marketing term to be plundered, rather than a set of essential rights for users that enable fantastic businesses...and cripple competitors.

David Beckham ("Becks") and Victoria Beckham (aka "Posh") thrive on hype. I think Becks is actually a decent person, and quite possibly earnestly believes that his walking around on crutches in the U.S. will somehow magically turn the country into a soccer nation. (Hint to Becks: A better road would be to improve the quality of the game by transplanting great U.S. players like Clint Dempsey to European clubs like Fulham. It's a start.)

But at some point people see through the hype. At some point you have to deliver reality,as Dave McAllister notes. At some point empty slogans and memories of others' or past successes just won't cut it.

The same is true of open source. How many start-ups have raised money on the premise of being "the Red Hat of (CRM/ERP/SCM/PLM/ECM/etc.)"? Too many, as very few of these companies actually use a Red Hat-esque business model, and even fewer hire people who firmly believe in the open-source ethos as Red Hat does.

Rather than "play good football," they play good marketing. They drape themselves in the flag of open source without abiding by its ideals. They defend themselves by insisting that no one owns the trademark to "open source," and so their definition of the term is as good as any. They are bozos.

Such shallow tactics hurt customers and ultimately the vendors that dilute the very movement on which they're trying to hitch a ride. In other words, their actions end up hurting themselves.

The best way to gain an open-source reputation--with all the benefits that come from this--is to earn it. You earn it by embracing the Open Source Definition and making a lot of money (or, if you're not a company, gaining traction through downloads and developer mindshare) in accordance with the OSD.

At some point, U.S. fans will realize that their People magazine understanding of David Beckham doesn't win soccer games. At some point, IT buyers will realize that hollow open-source marketing slogans don't give them the benefits of open source. Hopefully, both will be the wiser for the experience and will move on.

What I fear, however, is that a sour "Beckham" experience in soccer or open source will lead people away from the sport/movement. That would be tragic. If people begin to believe that open source is a gimmick, the movement will die, just as enthusiasm for watching Becks and Posh frolic through Los Angeles will lose its appeal.

It's time to upgrade our conception of football...and open source.