David Trewern

The web seems to have led to an expectation that everything “internet” should be free. Where does that leave many businesses?

Open source everything

David Trewern

Way back in 1964 Marshall McLuhan (who coined the phrase “global village”) wrote the following in his book Understanding Media: “Today after more than a century of electronic technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”

Marshal McLuhan died 15 years before I first used the internet. Now 27 years after his death, we are seeing the internet connect people, companies and products beyond communication, in a way that is much more akin to the central nervous system discussed by McLuhan. 

This nervous system is allowing new networks to emerge that have the power to evolve ideas, products, companies and politics in an almost subconscious manner. Everything has become open source.

While thinking about some of these ideas, I witnessed a very interesting presentation last week at the iMedia Digital Marketing Summit by Peter Williams CEO of Deloitte Digital and Innovation. He talked about the ways in which cells organise themselves to create slime mould, and touched on the networks that ants form to perform a range of tasks required to sustain their being. Ants on their own are not very bright, but as a colony they form a very strong organism with remarkable capabilities.

Williams drew parallels between networks in nature and new business models that involve an organisation seeding an idea and suite of tools, encouraging the community to evolve the product or service further to build the ultimate brand.

Facebook and its application framework is an example, Wikepedia and YouTube are others. He went on to state that “the more IP you have outside of your firewall, the stronger your brand will become”.

I completely agree. We have moved to an era where the successful companies of the future will create brand engagement by giving customers access to manipulate their products and services in order to create greater control and choice.

Control leads to ownership, which creates the advocacy required to turn a brand from being a “logo” into a religion. And sometimes the community can be so passionate about a product they will take control in its development, whether the originator of it likes it or not.

An interesting example is Apple’s iPhone. In recent weeks a network of hackers have developed a number of tools that allow the iPhone to be unlocked and used on virtually any network globally. A handful of enterprises have been established in the past two weeks to resell unlocked iPhones to Australians who can’t wait. The iPhone Dev Wiki is “dedicated to finding additional uses for the iPhone by (legitimately) enabling its potential capabilities”. It also goes on to state that “this project is a community effort, and as such we have no official leader”.

Apple boss Steve Jobs has stated that it’s Apple’s job to stay ahead of the hackers (presumably to appease the telcos who are signing exclusive deals with iPhone). Jobs commented that “it’s a constant cat and mouse game” but went on to concede that they are “not sure if they are the cat or the mouse”.

It’s a tricky situation for Apple. If Apple clamps down too firmly it risks turning influential, early-adopter Apple advocates against it. If Apple doesn’t take action it risks alienating its “other” customer type – the telcos that are vital to Apple achieving its goal of selling 10 million iPhones in 2008.

The longer Apple takes to roll the iPhone out globally, the more unauthorised iPhones that lack company support and warranties will be in circulation. This is also a potential headache for Apple.

In a previous blog, I talked about traditional companies being so scared of losing control of their IP they began suing their customers (think major music publishers and digital music). It will be interesting to see how Apple navigates through the iPhone rollout.


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