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Culture

Growing open-source projects and businesses, wherever you may be

Open source is location-agnostic. Actually, that's not quite true--it celebrates diverse geographies.

I was very fortunate tonight to keynote the inaugural Utah Open Source Conference (UTOSC). Fortunate because I'm a Utahn and it was great to see so many open-source developers in my home state. Fortunate because it pushed me to think once again about the location question in open source. (Btw, Phil Windley blogged my presentation, and did a great job of capturing some of my major points.)

Location may matter in some industries. It may even matter in proprietary software. It doesn't matter in open source, because open-source software is developed, sold and supported over the Internet. Open source is geography agnostic.

I talked about how Utah can grow its open-source ecosystem, but the same principles apply to any geography:

Matt Asay

  • Home is somewhere that you live. Work is something you do. In open source, work can (and should) be done online, making geography largely immaterial.

  • Open source starts with an itch and, if successful (and desirable), ends in an Inc. Different people and different geographies have different itches. We don't need a monoculture in software. It is appropriate and desirable to have Brazilians writing great software for other Brazilians, Iranians for other Iranians, etc. The United States need not be the center of the software universe, because Americans don't have universal answers for the world's software problems. Local software answers to local software needs.

  • Develop software to drive adoption. Cash will follow. "Cash" could be in the form of venture capital, or a "lifestyle" business that feeds the family, or employment with a great company. The first priority is great software. Making a living from it will naturally follow.

  • Silicon Valley is not the center of the open-source universe. Don't feel compelled to movethere by VCs too lazy to get on a plane.It's hardly even on the open-source map at all. I love the Valley. But if you look at the vast majority of successful open-source companies and projects, they weren't born in the Valley. I think there's a very good reason for that: open source takes time to grow (as Larry Augustin has astutely pointed out). The Valley demands fast growth and a quick flip. It's not a mentality that is particularly conducive to open source.

Scratch your development itch wherever you may be. Your community will be the better for it and so will open source, generally. We need less groupthink and more "youthink."

In closing, I just want to thank UTOSC for letting me speak to the group. And especially since the event was held on Novell's campus--I was sure someone was going to lynch me. Actually, I'm quite proud of Novell's involvement in open source--I just wish it would fully embrace it. But that's another blog.

You can download my presentation here. (Open Document format, of course.)