I coined the term Open Technology

It was late 2004. I had been asked to make the idea of a small business incubator in Beaverton, Oregon (Portland outskirts) a reality.

The City of Beaverton put up the initial funding. The Software Association of Oregon (SAO), learning of this, decided to jump in with some gentle nudging to make sure the incubator was truly supportive of small tech companies.

Meanwhile, Open Source Development Lab (OSDL), then the world headquarters of most things Linux, was based in Beaverton. OSDL leadership was brainstorming the concept for a global, virtual incubator.

I somehow landed the contract to herd those cats.

That’s the background for a little creation I never seriously considered claiming. It just seemed much too obvious an extension of the better-known term Open Source as in software, the source code of which you can download for free. And it was a last-minute thing. Something I probably blurted out in a brainstorming meeting at which we probably had been drinking. Still, it pleased me that IBM later incorporated it as the new name for what had been its Linux group. And Brian Behlendorf, now of Hyperledger fame at the Linux Foundation (the latter having absorbed the assets of OSDL) changed his handle from open source maven to open tech maven.

All this at least partly explains why I hadn’t paid all that much attention to increasing adoption of Open Technology in the name of several organizations. See, for example, the Open Technology Fund. And at New America Foundation, the Open Technology Institute.

No, I am not seeking payment. I’m writing this now because I had a definition in mind back then but let it languish in a manner consistent with my cavalier attitude about coining a term.

All of this is returning to top of mind as I’ve been in discussions with the team at IEEE SA Open about leading a committee to create a data governance framework. Also described as “open data governance” or, by me, data governance following the ethos of open technology. Way too many words. I’m sure we will get to a more concise and widely accepted title for our labors.

For now, I want to offer further thoughts on the potential of Open Technology and how a better definition might bring it to that place. (I’ll extend this more in later posts.)

Put aside your assumptions, or perhaps fantasies, about it being technology for free, created and maintained by a community of volunteers. Similarly, put aside the variant we all know and maybe don’t love, the corporate-sponsored open source project or a foundation-hosted open source project to which big corporations dedicate fully-employed engineers. Because, commodity. As in IBM dedicating a team to Linux rather than continue to fully support and enhance AIX because operating systems had been commoditized.

No, this is a description in the spirit of “ethos.” As selected prior posts indicate, I bring the communitarian DNA of my Mennonite heritage to this perspective. With this frame in mind, consider the following traits of an open technology vision:

  1. The context is a market that invites, maybe even desperately needs, ecosystem approaches–many participants with asymmetric power and yet strong interconnections.
  2. The architecture aligns with Descant as I have described it here–that is, there is supportive structure and governance but it is tech architecture demonstrating intention to invite and support extensions from contributors that, collectively, may better elevate the needs of all participants in the market.
  3. The development process is co-creative–similar to well-structured open source projects but with in-market contributors and consistent engagement intentionally seeking diverse perspectives.

Okay. We have the beginnings of a deeper conversation. I will be adding more later but, meanwhile, welcome your ideas and contributions.

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