The next stop of the open source movement: blockchain

Foreword: For the open source software movement, blockchain is their next stop. Why do you say this, the author TalKol said his reasons. This article was translated by the "Anthony" of the "Blue Fox Notes" public community.

There is very little debate about how open source has changed our world. As a software developer, I don't remember one day in the past few years I can't rely on open source software. I am no exception, and today, most software engineers rely on open source software almost every day in their careers.

First, open source software is already the primary infrastructure for developers. From the operating system (cloud in the cloud) to the database (MySQL, MongoDB, Redis), to the programming language itself (JavaScript, Python, Java, C, PHP). Not only developers, but also consumers, from the systems they run on their phones (Android) to the way they access the web (Chrome, Firefox) are open source.

The motivation is clear. Open source is good for human development, it makes technology more open and easy to access – anyone can build any application on an open source infrastructure.

Open source is not always mainstream

 

If you randomly ask some developers 20 years ago, open source software will become popular, they will laugh. Sharing software intellectual property, what about your competitive advantage? absurd. Does it affect the actual business? Reluctantly, this is just a niche market. Who will lead it?

This is similar to what people think of the blockchain today. No central organization to maintain operation? absurd. What commercial use cases? This is not the mainstream, it is just a niche market.

For the blockchain, the actual situation is even worse. The cryptocurrency bubble and its decline, full of opportunism and excessive speculation, have exacerbated the suspicions of ordinary people.

Open source vs for profit company

At first, open source and for-profit companies seem to be mutually exclusive. Companies like Microsoft will see open source as an enemy. They think that code is their secret weapon, and sharing will undermine their competitive advantage and even bring down the downfall. But now, this is not the case.

The biggest contributors to open source today are Microsoft, Google, IBM and Facebook. These companies are leading many of the most popular open source projects such as React and TensorFlow. Personally, I was fortunate to be a member of Wix.com and helped bring it from a “walled garden” to the 11th global open source software contributor in 2017.

Why do these companies choose to open some software intellectual property IP? Well, this is not because of ideology, but because open source makes these companies more competitive.

A good example is Google's Android. Due to the disruptive release of the iPhone, the early mobile space was dominated by Apple, Google was late, and Microsoft was late, and it was not easy for them to penetrate.

Google's strategic side relies heavily on the open source operating system Android. Google’s strategy has paid off. The development of the Android ecosystem has become an open answer to Apple’s “closed garden.” Google gave up the opportunity to make money by selling Android licenses, but gained more valuable things: Android occupied the world. More than a quarter of people's pockets.

Today's debate about the blockchain is also very intense. For-profit companies, especially market leaders, will choose to decentralize their business?

I think they will do the same for Google for the same reason. Not because of ideology, but because it makes them more competitive. In order to maintain their influence, they must make the ecosystem more open, otherwise their competitors will win.

Bifurcation, control and power balance

We've seen why companies like Facebook publish IPs like React — a project that changed the way Web front ends are built. It's not clear why other companies use Facebook's native technology for their own key business.

Maybe I can answer this question. When I was at Wix.com, I was fortunate to be involved in the debate about whether to build the Wix.com website editor on React. For a company that makes a living from creating a website, the risk of making decisions about the editor is the risk of life throughout the company.

Why do you say that? Imagine Facebook one day deciding to compete with Google for network rule and publishing its own web browser as a replacement for Chrome. An important part of the network is based on React. In the future of this dystopian, what if Facebook decides to make React incompatible with Chrome? This decision could jeopardize Wix.com's overall business.

Open source governance is successful, mainly due to the concept of fork. Anyone can get the full source code of any open source project and make a copy of their control. If Facebook makes React incompatible with Google Chrome, Wix.com can fork React and create a compatible version. If the community supports this branch that Facebook is maintaining, they will adopt it. At some point, the more popular forks will actually become the real "React" in the eyes of the public.

This delicate balance makes Facebook more cautious in making decisions. Facebook can maintain its influence as long as it is not abused. Where is the crossover? It is up to the consensus.

This sounds very close to the way blockchain governance works. The ability to guarantee forks is one of the core guarantees that the technology provides to its users. One thing to note is that this guarantee is much stronger under the blockchain. In addition to the system's source code, you can fork all of its data.

Continuation of the open source movement

We see several similarities between open source software and blockchain. Whether it is to choose the motive of openness, whether a for-profit company is suitable, or whether the balance of power and governance are similar.

This is not just a coincidence, blockchain is a continuation of the open source software movement.

Open source software has significant limitations in sharing content. Open source can't open real-time systems and can't open data. You can share the source code of the server, but you cannot share the running instances and data of this server.

Blockchain makes it even more possible to open up on open source.

a concrete example

Let's go back to Android. We've seen the value of the ecosystem, which comes from controlling the operating system source code—a value that makes companies like Samsung join and make the ecosystem more attractive.

But Android is more than just source code. The ecosystem requires many scenario application services to function. Android relies on push notifications, relies on transaction payments, and relies on a wide variety of applications downloaded from Google Play. These services are all running application instances, not just code. Billions of users use them every day to generate and own data.

Who is running these services? Let's take a look at Google Play and the answer is self-evident. Google runs these services on its private infrastructure, which is not shared with anyone.

What is the cost of let Google control Google play alone? Everyone knows that every developer pays Google a 30% fee to distribute their apps digitally. But this is just a question of money, and every mobile developer is upset about the application approval process. Someone experienced the APP application was rejected and put down three times. Absolute control over the distribution channel, and also the product itself to participate in the distribution, which is not conducive to competition. Look at the fate of Spotify in the AppStore.

How about the competition in the app store on Android? This is possible, and Amazon is doing a good job of building alternatives. But unfortunately, they are almost indistinguishable from Google Play, and these alternatives don't solve the underlying problem.

Being able to run this service like Google Play will bring great value to the Android ecosystem. This idea is technically impossible using only open source technology.

Although the technical blockchain is feasible, to be honest, we will not see this happen soon. Google Play, which decentralizes community operations, is less practical, mainly for business reasons.

Instead, I saw a different opportunity. Opportunities like for-profit giants like Microsoft, they are eager to open up some market segments in the mobile space, build incompletely centralized application distribution channels, and provide more assurance to developers who rely on it. It's not because of ideology, but because it makes it more competitive — at least more competitive than Google Play and Amazon Appstore.

Blockchain will become mainstream

History will prove that a multi-party system ecosystem must ultimately provide some hard protection for its users, not because of ideology, but to remain competitive.

This does not mean that every system will run on the blockchain, just as not every piece of software must be open source, but there are some key fundamental parts of the world that must be open. Just as some key parts of software must be open source, big companies can succeed.

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