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What does advertising say about open source?

If you can tell anything about society from the advertising it endures, what does advertising say about open source?

Thirty million years from now, scientists may well partly decipher our society by our advertisements. Advertisements, after all, say a great deal about the sorts of things we value. It's therefore interesting to glean open-source values from the advertisements that surround and promote it.

As I drive Interstate 15 in my home state of Utah, I'm barraged by billboards with three central themes:

  1. Home building - Live in a planned (and canned) development project!
  2. Liposuction/cosmetic surgery services - Your house looks great, but you're a little shabby!
  3. Divorce/mediation counsel - Sure, you're thin now, but wouldn't you be happier with someone else?

No, I'm not exaggerating. But yes, these messages say a lot about the values and insecurities that I and my fellow Utahns share.

In Silicon Valley, every billboard is advertising technology. Snore...Maybe a little cosmetic surgery is not such a bad thing, after all.

On Twitter, as I was reminded this morning, spam bots pepper users with porn and teeth-whitening services. Over e-mail, you're being asked to rescue the bank accounts of African princes (get rich quick!) or being propositioned to finally get that anatomy adjustment you've been putting off (sex is happiness!).

But what about open source?

A Google search for the term "open source" returns the ads at right. Nothing in there to improve your odds with the men/women, but a big emphasis on getting one's job done quickly and efficiently. (Ironically, a search for "Microsoft" returns somewhat different results.)

If we move to SourceForge.net, a popular open-source project hosting site, a search for "Openbravo" reveals a display ad for Oracle Accelerate (SMB solutions) and if you click to download Openbravo's ERP suite you get...SAP advertising its own SMB offerings.

Perhaps scientists will one day mark this as a turning point in proprietary vendors' inability to halt the shift to open source?

Perhaps it doesn't mean much, but I think there's something to the notion that every Google search I performed (for "Liferay," for "Apache Software," and other open-source terms), each returned roughly the same thing: advertisements on how to get the most from the software.

You can learn a lot about society from the advertisements it endures. In open source, it appears that advertisers are selling productivity. I'll buy that.


Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.