“The original premise of the internet was democratisation of everything but –let’s be honest- the opposite is happening. A few large companies own the bulk of the most important software used nowadays and have profited immensely of the internet, that was basically all built on open source technology.”
FreedomLab Campus resident Erwin Blom points out the –quite substantial- issue that, in a way, lies underneath the introduction of Stek, a platform that makes installing, hosting and updating open source tools a one click experience. The initiative of Fast Moving Targets with two partners wants to make good software available to a non tech savvy audience.
Erwin Blom is what you could call, an internet veteran. Since 1994 he has been grasped by the enormous potential of this, then emerging, networking technology. As a journalist, he felt enormously attracted to the digital possibilities to get stories across and mobilize the power of a crowd. Later, at Dutch broadcasting company VPRO, for many years he was head of digital innovation and has since used his knowledge and experience to help others understand, use and innovate within this domain with his company Fast Moving Targets. But there’s one thing he never was nor became, a ‘techie’.
OS for the crowd
Blom: “And that can be quite frustrating. There’s a lot of great open source stuff out there but without technical skills it’s hard to install and hard to play a part in the development of it. I think it would be of huge value if ‘regular’ people could contribute more. Give direct user feedback and work together with tech developers to build something valuable. Make things more user friendly, which could make sure open source becomes available for larger crowds.”
“But” Erwin explains, “for the introduction of Stek to the outside world, i.e. for the regular user, all this ‘open source’-business isn’t even the most important story to market the products. The open source tools Stek will host will mainly be marketed for their distinct user friendly-ness, reliability and for their relatively low costs. We will pay a lot of attention to how to’s and templates for ways of working.”
OS as business
The ‘open source’ backstory, will just be ‘a beneficial side effect’ for the average Joe. Stek is starting with blog software Ghost and communication and productivity tools comparable to Slack and Trello. And, yes, users will still have to pay, because hosting costs money. But also, open source doesn’t mean you can’t make money. “A lot of the successful open source tools like for example WordPress have a free version and a paid hosted version. You can make money and give away your software at the same time. At VPRO it was almost a practical joke to our director that everything we were setting up was ‘given away for free’ as open source software. I always replied: ‘And we are profiting from it, in many ways.’
Blom is very well aware of the fact that open source doesn’t solve all problems either: ‘You need an active community, there’s no guarantees in that respect. But at least it will always be out there, even when no one’s actively developing it. It is sustainable software.” Always the critical journalist, he’s also not that fond of ‘the trendiness of every other business claiming to have ‘a purpose’. “In the end, everyone’s trying to make a good living and that’s just fine.” So maybe Erwin would never use the word ‘purpose’ himself, yet it seems he does have one when he talks about Stek: “A few large companies have profited immensely of the internet, that was basically all built on open source technology. I believe you should feel morally responsible to give back, to make the world -of software- better.”