Bjelkeman's travel notes

Travels with the cloud in my pocket.

How open source software builds strong roots for better governance


Image credits : Wikimedia Commons. Modified by Jen Wike Huger.

(This was originally posted on, thanks to their editors and to Mark Charmer for getting the writing into good shape.)

Open data and going digital are subjects high on the international agenda for global development, particularly when it comes to financing improved services and infrastructure for the poorest people in the world. Young people from Laos to Lagos aspire to become software developers, and smartphones are set to put unprecedented computing power into every corner of the earth. But the paradox is that many governments still only have rudimentary information technology infrastructure and often can’t find trained and skilled staff to design and run it.

In many African countries, the capacity for central and regional government to work with digital tools is limited because it is common to find only a few people in the government department responsible for coordinating involvement and investment in, say, rural drinking water infrastructure and financing. Thus, they are easily stretched thin by the demands and the need to be experts on many aspects of IT and data systems.

Our organization designs and builds open source data systems, which we also run as Software as a Service (SaaS), for organizations working with international development. This embraces a fascinating mix of multi-lateral organizations (such as Unicef and the World Bank), international NGOs, and central and regional governments. This is a pivotal moment for the development of country governance tools. I’ve long felt that the roots of such systems should be built on open source software because in just a few years’ time, IT infrastructure in a country will be just as important as other infrastructure, such as roads or water supply. Our societies are evolving toward a future that is intricately connected with efficient just-in-time systems that keep our society ticking, and IT is a vital part of the system. For the more than three billion people living in Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia—areas with under-developed IT infrastructure for governance—a big change is coming quickly.

For a little more than two years, we have been helping governments of countries like Ethiopia, Nepal, Nigeria, and Indonesia with map infrastructure for schools, health centers, public drinking water points, and peri-urban water connections. Access to these data systems quickly changes the way infrastructure investments are done. Without the systems, making effective investments and prioritizing decisions is difficult, if not impossible. For example, full-country rural drinking water inventories are underway or complete in Ghana, Benin, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, and other countries.

So why is open source software important in this context? I believe that a strong society has a common ownership of its critical infrastructure, and IT services that support governance of municipalities, regions, and countries are becoming critical infrastructure.

Where I live, my local municipality owns or controls the piped water supply, sewage system, local roads, electricity network, waste management facilities, fiber-optic network, and district cooling and heating network. Companies offer services that use the roads, fiber-optic, and electric network, or provide management and operations of the waste and heating/cooling facilities, but ultimately the infrastructure is under the control of the municipality and, as such, is indirectly owned by the citizens.

IT infrastructure, including software and databases, will become just as important as other infrastructure, and the best way to retain control over your IT infrastructure is going to be to work with open source software. With open source software, the door is always open, too, so if you want to move your data operations, you can take the software and your data with you. Ideally, the result will be better governance, better democracy, and ultimately better lives for the populations of these countries in the future.

Filed under: Open source

Sustainable energy — the growth of wind power in Sweden (part 5)


Sweden in 2014 produced about 64 TWh (42%) from large hydro and 62 TWh (41%) from nuclear. The rest came from wind 12 TWh (7.9%) and from other 13 TWh (8.5%), other being mostly biofuel and waste.

The interesting thing here is probably the change over time. In 2005 the distribution was 72 TWh (hydro), 70 TWh (nuclear), 0.9 TWh (wind), 12 TWh (other). With wind growing by 13x and the others staying relatively static, and energy use going down slightly. [1] There is quite a lot of variance per year, as the winter weather changes energy consumption quite significantly.

Electricity export has gone from about zero (2005-2007) to 15 TWh (2012-2014).

How can an individual contribute to this growth?

Possibly the most effective way to support the wind power growth in Sweden is to buy shares in a Swedish wind power cooperative. To show how this works I made a quick and dirty calculation: I bought 28 shares from OX2 windpower coop [2], which entitles me to 28,000 kWh at cost price. Which is what our house/home office uses per year. The price is about €700/share. But I bought shares from the market (people that want to sell their shares), which for some reason are cheaper. I paid about €590/share.

Over the last seven years (I haven’t had my shares that long), the saving on cost of electricity, which is tax free, would have been about €960/year. Which is about 5.7% ROI/year. Better than bank rates but worse than index linked stock market investments (I think).


Note: This was originally a few comments on a post in Hacker News: Why Energy Storage is About to Get Big – and Cheap

Filed under: Climate Change, Sustainable energy, ,

Sustainable energy – Swedish fuel use for electricity production (part 4)

In the last blog I said we had to figure out how much of the electricity produced by the cogeneration (CHP) plants came from renewable energy. Fortunately there is a graph for that too. And it says that in 2013 of 20 TWh of electricity produced 15 TWh came from biofuels. The remaining 5 TWh came from a mix of coal, coal gas, blast furnace gas, natural gas, oil and liquid petroleum gas.

SE fuel for electricity

Figure: Fuel use in Sweden’s electricity production, excluding nuclear fuel 1983-2013, TWh. Figure from Energiläget 2013, part of figure 14.

Considering that in 2013 Sweden produced 12% more electricity than it consumed, then we should then take the 15TWh of renewable production above and deduct the 12% which went on export. Which gives us about 13 TWh of renewable cogeneration.
This means that we now know how much of the Swedish electricity supply in 2013 was renewable:

  • Hydro power 69 TWh
  • Wind power 9 TWh
  • Cogeneration with biofuel 13 TWh

Other electricity production:

  • Nuclear power 55 TWh
  • Cogeneration with other fossil fuels 4 TWh

That comes to about 150TWh in total. There is probably about 2-5TWh of rounding errors in these calculations, through rounding errors and reading from graphs. I could of course go back to the actual numbers (the publish a spreadsheet), but for the purpose of this exercise I think that is overkill.

For the next blog I will have a look at putting together an overview graph of what is renewables in the total energy use today in Sweden and what isn’t.

Links to the previous posts in the series

Filed under: Sustainable energy, , , ,

Sustainable energy – Sweden’s electricity supply (part 3)

To understand how to make the Swedish energy system sustainable, we need to now look at how much is sustainable already and how much needs to be replaced by sustainable sources.

So I am starting with the easy part and look at the electricity supply. Sweden already have a significant component sustainable electricity production, primarily from large hydro, but also from biofuels which power the district heating systems (cogeneration). Smaller sustainable components are wind power and other cogeneration.

SE Electric production

Figure: Sweden’s electricity production per production method and total consumption, 1970-2013, TWh. Figure from Energiläget 2013, part of figure 12.

In this figure we can see that the Swedish electricity consumption is about the same in 2013 as it was around 1987, at about 140 TWh. It peaked in 2000 at about 150 TWh. In 2013 hydro power supplied about 55% of the Swedish consumption and nuclear power supplied about 43%. One should note however that a few years ago they were about equal. It depends on a number of things: how much water is available in the dams and also maintenance cycles for the nuclear power plants, which sometimes need to be shut down for long periods for planned or unplanned maintenance.

In both 2012 and 2013 Sweden produced more electricity than it consumed. In 2013 the overproduction was about 20 TWh (about 12%) more than consumption and this went on export. So it is probably more accurate to say that hydro supplied about 49% and nuclear about 38% of Swedish electricity consumption.

Cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP) supplief the next biggest part, combined about 20 TWh. However, we can’t really say that this is sustainable, as this graph doesn’t say anything about the energy source used in the CHP plants. We have to refer to another graph to puzzle out that. Wind power provided about 10 TWh in 2013. [1]

So for the sustainable component of this I am going to count:

  • Hydro power: 140 TWh [2]
  • Wind power 10 TWh
  • Some portion of the cogeneration, see later blog for how much

Probably a bit controversially I am going to count nuclear power as a transition system to be phased out later. Nuclear power is a fossil fuel, but it doesn’t produce the huge amounts of climate changing emissions that other fossil fuels produce. So it makes sense in my personal opinion to phase the nuclear power out last, as I wrote about earlier.

For the next blog I’ll investigate the sustainable component of the cogeneration.

Links to the previous posts in the series

[1] My household electricity is 100% wind power, from the wind power cooperative OX2, where I have enough shares to supply 90% of our yearly consumption from our own shares.
[2] Large hydro, like most of the hydro power in Sweden is not really considered sustainable anymore. The dams destroy an awful lot of the ecosystem when they are put in place and in Sweden only old large hydro stations can be considered “sustainable” and if you build new once then they aren’t. However, there are essentially no further rivers to dam up anymore in Sweden anyway, so it is a bit of a non-issue.

Filed under: Sustainable energy, , ,

Sustainable energy – a Swedish energy balance sheet (part 2)

SE Energy balance

So here is my translation of the chart (from the previous blog post) “Total slutlig använding updelat på sectorer, 379 TWh” which in English is “Sweden – Total energy use of energy, divided by sector, 379 TWh (2011)” with added country and date for clarity.[1]

I have changed the colours in the chart, as I didn’t think they were as informative as they could have been and I have made a key for it, which is somewhat subjective.

  • Black: Coal and coke, arguably the worst fossil fuel.
  • Grey: Oil, the second worst fossil fuel.
  • Olive green: Natural gas & coal gas, the least bad fossil fuels in this overview.
  • Yellowish: Biofuel and peat [2], better, but still bad air pollutants. Also the energy economics in some biofuels is questionable.
  • Light green: District heating, better, but is often a mix of biofuels, waste and some fossil fuel.
  • Bright green: Electricity, best, as it can easiest be converted to solar or the other least polluting energy sources. (Even though it is 46% nuclear in 2014.)

So what does this picture tell us?

Clearly transport has the biggest challenge, as oil is so prevalent. The industrial sector in Sweden has moved strongly towards biofuel and peat, but there is still quite a lot of fossil fuel in the mix. The residential and services sector is doing relatively well with only 10% of fossil fuel left in the energy mix.

It is also interesting to see categories which are nearly the same but not quite, like renewable fuel in the transport category, but bio fuel in residential services and biofuel and peat in the industry category. Which sometimes makes it harder to compare. Also district heating could well be run on coal, biofuel or heat pumps, all which have a very different environmental impact. Ideally district heating should be divided instead over the different fuels.

Electricity can also contain fossil fuel use in Sweden. Today the Swedish electricity production is about 46% nuclear, 46% large hydro and the rest a mix of biofuel, waste and fossil fuel (the latter often imported).

Links to the previous posts in the series

[1] Often images gets pulled out of context, through Google Image Search for example, and then it is good to embed a bit more information in the image.

[2] Peat is counted as biofuel in Swedish energy balance calculations, but this is very doubtful as a practice, as it takes hundreds of years to regenerate. So on the time-scales of catastrophic climate change, it should really be classified as a fossil fuel.

Edit: Added link to previous post in the series.

Filed under: Sustainable energy, , ,

Sustainable energy – a Swedish energy balance sheet (part 1)

The book Sustainable energy – without the hot air, by David MacKay, professor of engineering at the University of Cambridge, is probably the most sensible book written about sustainable energy I have come across. I am not the only one that thinks that. After the book was published MacKay was appointed Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate change. Former oil bosses, to directors of Greenpeace have said good things about the book. So, I think we can agree that it is a good book. And what is even better, you can download it for free on his website.

Sustainable Energy - without the hot air Sustainable
Energy – without the hot air

by David MacKay

The book lays out, in easy to understand language, what the challenge with sustainable energy is in general and for the UK in specific. He creates an energy balance sheet, of what is used in non-renewable energy today in the UK and how that could be replaced by renewables. It is an exemplary work, which makes it all the more surprising that we haven’t seen more energy balance sheets made like this for other countries of regions.

So instead of complaining about it. I thought I’ll have a go at this. One blog post at the time. A Swedish energy balance sheet and how to replace it with renewables. The Swedish government department of energy (Energimyndigheten), has quite a lot of good research and data online, so getting the data shouldn’t make it to difficult to get started.

The first part is relatively easy as the to me most useful piece that Energimyndigheten has published, is probably the documents, graphs and spreadsheets called The state of energy 2013 (Energiläget 2013).(Even though a lot of data isn’t actually from 2013, but that is how large scale data collection often works. You get old numbers.) It contains a number of useful figurs and data, which we are going to need.


Figure from Energiläget 2013, part of figure 1

(I try to translate these figures into English properly later. But here is what they say).

The figure says: Total use of energy in Sweden 2011 grouped sector.
Left: Transport (90 TWh) divided over: electricity (3 TWh); oil products (82TWh); natural gas (0.4 TWh); renewables (6 TWh).

Middle: Industry total (144 TWh) dived over: electricity (53 TWh); district heating (4 TWh); oil products (13 TWh); natural gas/town gas (4 TWh); coal and coke (15 TWh); biofuel, peat and waste (53 TWh).

Right: Residences and services total (144 TWh) divided over: electricity (70 TWh); district heating (43 TWh); oil products (13 TWh); natural gas/town gas (2 TWh); biofuel, peat and waste (16 TWh).

Next: Converting this the chart to an English chart.

(Edit: Change what the next blog was going to be. I don’t think I will convert to KWh/person/day, as I am not sure that is that useful after all.)

Filed under: Sustainable energy, , ,

Advice to Y-Combinator non-profit startups – part 2 – Core success factors

This is part of a series of blogs called Advice to Y-Combinator non-profit startups. Of course it has wider application than that. Part 1 was some general advice to get this started

#Akvo RSR developer team meeting at Villa Kakelbont
Part of the Akvo RSR developer team, meeting this autumn

There was a discussion on Hacker News about how to make money on open source software, where I chipped in a bit about how we at Akvo do it. I wrote enough to actually make a coherent blog post out of it.

For quite a long time there has been this idea going around that organisations who create open source software should make money on providing software support. This has proven to not be very lucrative for most businesses that try this and other models have been tried, some of which are described in the above discussion.

We took a somewhat different approach with

We noticed the really poor use of Internet systems in international development aid. More than $120 Bn is spent yearly on this, and nobody really has a clue where the money goes. There is no useful overview. So we started building tools to fix that and supply them as a paid for service.

Everything we build is open source software. We have 45+ people working on this, with paying partners such as the World Bank, UNICEF, Liberian government, Mars Chocolate and many hundreds more. It is not your ordinary business model, but it works and we are growing. You can make open source software and earn a decent living.

Core success factors

We believe that our success comes out of a few core things:

  • We brought together domain experts as equals, i.e. people working in international development, water and sanitation issues (our starting market), network organisations, computer software and services, computer software marketing and communications, to solve a problem. This is fairly unusual in both the software and the international development industry.
  • We say our team is a three legged stool. Partner team (more about that below), software team and communications team. If we don’t treat all three equally the stool falls over. We go so far that we think it is imperative to not have an organisation run by the tech or the international development side, but by both sides. So we have until know had two directors of the organisation, one from each domain. Working very closely with the comms director.
  • Maybe most importantly though, we have a very experienced partner team. They have worked in this market for decades. They know “everyone”. We literally have connections to thousands of organisations through our networks and we understand how to talk to those organisations. Our partner team know where all the gremlins are and how the processes work. They know how to get the required startup and expansion investments as well as how to get the big organisations to use our tools.

Non-traditional sales and marketing

About the partner team. We don’t consider us having any customers. We treat all of the organisations that work with us as partners. They then treat us as partners too and it completely changes the relationship when you are trying to solve a problem. Of course it helps that we are a non-profit foundation. We are also not-for-loss. We have a functional business model. This is obviously critical.

In a traditional company our partner team would consist of strategic sales people, account managers, project managers, consultants, trainers etc. We have a partner team that fulfils all those roles, but they are a _partner_ team. Sales are not done on a quota, no bonuses are paid (which often drive really crappy sales in a s/w company) etc.

We have no marketing and PR team. We have a communications team. Most of our staff communicate. Everyone is in fact encouraged and empowered to speak for the organisation. The communications team just supports everyone learning how to communicate well. We hardly do any PR. We may need to increase it, but it mostly does itself based on our peoples open communication.

No bespoke development

Some open source product organisations try to supplement their income by doing bespoke development on top of their product. We don’t as we find that this only distracts you from building a good product. Our revenue comes from hosting, training and implementation consulting services, but not technical implementation services, but implementing the tools themselves within the organisation.

We avoid technical implementation services, as most organisations we work with have a really low internal technical knowledge. If we then take the responsibility for implementing the technical side, we find that they don’t take the ownership of the bigger issues. These are things like learning to publish open data and the changes in culture which this implies in the organisation. Then their failure to embrace the change needed in the organisation is projected as our failure to implement the technical side.

We have technical account management, but require for our partners who implement our tools to either have in-house the required technical skills or hire in the required skills. If they don’t do this, take ownership of the bigger issues and hire competent technical project management and help, we don’t do the projects, as they are very likely to fail. This may sound obvious, but often it isn’t to the partners we work with.

I could write a lot more, but we are creating the Akvo Handbook, which will outline all of this, and be available under an open content license. You can read it all there then. But don’t hesitate to ask any specific questions you may have.

Filed under: Open source, Startup, ,

Advice to Y-Combinator non-profit startups

Y-Combinator is probably the most interesting organisation in the US and EU when it comes to startup funding for digital entrepreneurs. Interestingly enough they have decided to also help non-profit startups. They did an experiment in the last batch with one organisation, Watsi, donation funded healthcare, which apparently turned out well. So Y-Combinator is now taking applications from non-profit teams too as part of their normal application process.

As someone who has been running a successful non-profit digital startup for a number years I thought I’d share some thoughts on some things I think are important to be successful as a non-profit digital startup. Much is the same as running a normal digital startup, so I’ll concentrate on the differences.

First though, for those that don’t know Y-Combinator I’ll let them describe themselves:

In 2005, Y Combinator developed a new model of startup funding. Twice a year we invest a small amount of money ($14-20k + an $80k note) in a large number of startups (most recently 52). The startups move to Silicon Valley for 3 months, during which we work intensively with them to get the company into the best possible shape and refine their pitch to investors. Each cycle culminates in Demo Day, when the startups present to a large audience of investors. But YC doesn’t end on Demo Day. We and the YC alumni network continue to help founders for the life of their company, and beyond.

#wwweek activity in the @Akvo and the @washalliance stand

The Akvo stand at a recent conference, with Peter van der Linde, one of the co-founders of Akvo

Incentives are different

One of the most obvious, and maybe most important, differences with a for-profit company is that you are not doing this to become rich. It may sound obvious, but it changes several important things in an organisation fundamentally.

The people or organisations that invests money in your organisation will still be looking for a return on investment, but often that will return will not be in the form of money. The return can sometimes be hard to define. If you define it well you are well on your way to get investments or grants., of which I am a co-founder, has received several million Euros in grants and investments. We haven’t been asked to provide a board seat for any of our investors, neither have any of our investors any shares in the organisation (it is a group of foundations). This means that we have a great deal of autonomy, but it also means that we have to be very careful how we populate our supervisory boards, with a good balance between understanding our business as well as challenging us. This is not that different from a for-profit board, but I’d advice against having only board members with no experience in the non-profit space. Find board members who have crossed over in either direction with experience from both non-profit and for-profit.


Akvo is non-profit, but we are also not-for-loss. In other words: we charge money for the services which we provide, as we think it is fundamentally unhealthy to rely on grants to survive as an organisation. We still take grants, which are mainly investments to build new products or break into new markets. But each product and market is expected to pay for itself in the long run. This has in fact been been critical for our investors decisions to invest or grant us money.


Because it is not primarily about making money and making you or the investors rich you will find recruitment to be quite different as well. The people that come and work with you will be doing this for the passion of the cause, not the money they can make. People have to eat though, so I’d advice you to pay a decent salary. If you do, then your team will passionately stay with you for a long time.

No customers

We say that we don’t have any customers, only partner organisations. This may sound like a silly point, but we think it is very important. By always talking about those organisations we work with as partners rather than customers, then we think of them differently. Importantly, our partners also think about us differently. We have a much better relationship with our partners as a result.

Open source

We work hard at trying to not duplicate work others have done already. So we use open source software wherever possible, but it is a pragmatic tool, not a religion (i.e. we use GitHub, Disqus etc.). We build all our services as open source software which we run as a service. Most of the services that we operate benefit fundamentally from being run large scale. But our philosophy is that the “door is always open”. If you want to take the software and your data and move somewhere else, you are always welcome to do so. At the same time, the systems are complicated to develop, operate and maintain, and our partners don’t really want to have to do that. They just want to use the systems. As Akvo’s systems gradually are moving into becoming digital governance tools in countries and organisations that use them we fundamentally think it is of critical importance that we supply open source tools. More about that in another blog.


There is definitely competition to our services. However, as we are here to fix a problem, not make money, we are very pragmatic in working together with potential competitors. that see the world like we do. We support each other and try to make sure we don’t overlap in unhealthy ways. We also compete with for-profit companies, which I think is good for both. We keep each other sharp.

Discoverable communications

Something Mark Charmer, who works with me at Akvo, and I have come up with as a concept to describe how we communicate is: discoverable communications. We work in the emerging digital age, use the tools! Nearly everyone in our 45 strong Akvo team uses blogs, twitter, commit messages, video and more, to communicate. Our communications team is there to support everyone else to communicate well, not to be the gatekeepers of information. As a non-profit your reasons to be secretive are a lot less than for a for-profit. Use this advantage ruthlessly.

Of course there is a lot more that can be said about running a non-profit digital startup and if you think this is useful I’ll write some more.

Filed under: Open source, Startup

Open-source developers, you are not innovative, you are expensive and not collaborative

So, is it true that open-source developers are not innovative, are expensive and not collaborative? At least that is the impression I get when I read what Joel Selanikio, CEO and co-founder of DataDyne, wrote recently. He surprised me somewhat the other day when he said:

“Regarding open source, in my experience its promise (ie constant innovation, lowered costs, collaboration, etc) has not been met by the reality.” and then he said:
“The only open-source software that I have ever used regularly is the Firefox browser, though I don’t much anymore.”

XKCD: Someone is wrong on the internet

Brilliant comic pane by XKCD (I have a signed print of this one).

To me, these are a pretty surprising statements coming from someone who has based his business on several open-source products. DataDyne builds and operates the EpiSurveyor service, which uses mobile devices to collect data. DataDyne has just under one hundred paying customers for its services [1] and about nine thousand who use their service which is no-cost up to five thousand data uploads per year (i.e. subsidised by their paying customers).

I was surprised, because two core data collection components of the EpiSurveyor system, namely the EpiSurveyor J2ME (Java) app, is built on the framework of the JavaROSA open-source project, and the Android app “is based on the excellent work done in the ODK project at the University of Washington” (wording from DataDyne’s own writing). Not only that, DataDyne’s web site runs WordPress, which is also open-source.

I think anyone who decides to use JavaROSA, ODK and WordPress to help run his business if wouldn’t do this if s/he didn’t think it was innovative, low cost and great collaboration to build his services on these open-source products. I should probably just stop right here, but I find this kind of attitude too interesting to analyse a bit further. There are quite a lot said about open-source software, which I don’t particularly agree with and this is an example of it. I wanted to discuss some of my thoughts on the subject.

Open-source doesn’t offer constant innovation, lowered costs and collaboration?

The biggest open-source projects of them all is the internet itself. (The internet is without doubt also the most complex interconnected “machine” humans have ever created.) It runs on open standards and protocols and is constantly developed. HTML is the code which is used to markup web pages such that they get structure and layout [2]. The HTML standard is a huge collaborative project. No single organisation owns the HTML standard and it is a constant effort to improve it. It is not always clear what is the best way forward and often something good happens which wasn’t “according to plan”, like HTML5. HTML and its use is a highly collaborative environment, all the code is open (for any web page). You can “View->Source” and see how a particular web page has been assembled. This very open way of working has been a critical part of making the web an enormous success. I think that this is innovative and collaborative…

The web propelled the internet into popularity and has made it possible to get access to all the glory (and gore) of the internet, for as low as US$15/month or free at your local library or school. I think there is overwhelming evidence to support the statement that open-source is offering constant innovation, lowering costs and creates collaboration.

“The only open-source software that I have ever used”

A lot of people don’t think they use any open-source software. I am not sure how anyone working in a mobile phone and web based company would get any work done at all these days, without using open-source software. It even escapes many peoples’ attention that large parts of the smartphone operating system Android is open-source.

Even the more secretive company Apple, has release the core of the Apple Safari web browser, WebKit, open source (which was based on KHTML and only released openly after the community applied some pressure on Apple. Thanks to @peppelorum for reminding me). In fact nearly 40% of web traffic comes from WebKit based browsers these days and 60% from all open-source based browsers [3]

It is hard to do anything on the web without using open-source software considering that the majority of the web servers in the world are open-source. The open-source web servers Apache and nginx together account for more than 70% of the world’s web servers. [4]

Joel also said that:

“The only open-source software that I have ever used regularly is the Firefox browser, though I don’t much anymore. I believe that this is because of the poor business models for open source products: if you give your software away, you need to charge for something. For open-source software that either means training and consulting (which means you are not incentivized to reduce the training/consulting requirement for your software) or grant support (in which case you are more focused on grantors than users).”

Poor business models are often brought up in these type of discussions around open-source software A lot of people seem to never have heard about RedHat, a billion dollar business with US$146 million in net income in 2012 and 3,700 employees. Or Canonical (US$30 million/400 employees), or Automattic (who makes WordPress) which has 115 employees and more monthly unique visitors to their web site than Amazon (IMHO a good business model is more than just the dollars). Neither of these companies rely on grants, and “only” training and consulting for their income.

To be fair with Joel, in a blog post, which he links in the discussion, he says, in a footnote, that all this is about: ” ‘user-facing software’: software designed for regular people to use. I am not talking about back-end, programmer-facing software — a field in which open-source has made significant and ongoing and innovative contributions.” Which is a bit like putting your caveat at “the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard’.” [5]

But he posts all these statements in a discussion, which is about promoting his company vs. some open source software (which I work with and which is for “regular people”) to essentially disparage open-source with these “regular people”.

This attitude makes me a bit sad. And I think that is a shame, as they make products for a good cause.

[1] Based on data from their web site and information in that LinkedIn post. 8965 users (15 Aug 2012, 16.21 CEST) and he says “less than 1% pays for the service”.
[2] There are more components, like CSS, JavaScript and more, but they are largely handled the same was as I describe HTML above.
[3] Chrome (30.06%), Firefox (21.01%), Safari (9.10%), Android (2.57%) are all open-source based and make up 63.28% of all browser usage.
[4] The web servers Apache (59.39%) and nginx (11.53%) together account for more than two thirds of the world’s web servers (70.92%).
[5] Extra points, without search engine, for identifying who said that.

Edit: 16 Aug 2012, 16.12 CEST, added piece about KHTML.

Filed under: Open source

The future we deserve – 100 essays about the future, #theFWD

Vinay Gupta (@leashless) said on Twitter:

“I’m putting together a book called The Future We Deserve, open brief, 500 words, sign up at”. [1]

The future we deserve - 100 essays about the future (picture: Dragonfly, by Maria Elvorith)

The future we deserve - 100 essays about the future (picture: Dragonfly, by Maria Elvorith)”

The book is 100 essays about the future, and sometimes about the now, written by nearly as many authors. It’s inspiring, scary, fun, thoughtful.

If someone else had asked I probably would have ignored it, but I often have very engaging conversations with Vinay, in a mad scientist kind-of-way. I would like to say that this is because I like the way he thinks, but that feels… gruesome, or actually, maybe that is correct. I do like the way he thinks, it is the outcomes of his thinking which is pretty gruesome and one of the essays I wrote for #theFWD address just that. Gruesome outcomes, which very few people like to think about.

I started to write a few things which have been bumping around in my life for a while. But I think I overdid it. I actually wrote four essays and to my surprise, the editors included them all. The book is available to read on Appropedia, as well as a PDF download, but if you are like me then you may want to actually buy a hardcopy of it.

[1] I love Twitter, but at the same time I have a hard time using it. You can’t find really old tweets easily, the archive browsing is slow and cumbersome. Otherwise I would have linked to it.

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