Robin Miller:Today we’re on the horn with Louis Saurez Potts. He was the OpenOffice.org community guy for years. He’s been involved with open source and FOSS in general for a long time – for a long time. And now he’s got a new FOSS oriented business venture going. So tell us what’s it like, what’s going on?
Louis Saurez-Potts:Thanks for the introduction, Robin. It’s a lot of fun. The organization is called the Age of Peers, and it’s a co-operative kind of consultancy for marketing, PR, community management development for organizations that are starting or have begun in some other manner and just developing it further, FOSS, that is Free and Open Source Software endeavors or engagements. And this can be anything from say a developer or two who has an idea of opening some of the code, and wants to get a community around it, beyond that what he or she might have with _____1:24to some large corporation that wants to make publicly available through Open Source licensing some humongous body of code and has no idea how to go about marketing or has an idea, but wants it really to be done efficiently, marketing the endeavor and getting the code out there and making sure that this actually works.
Because the big problem that we encountered and our consultancy includes the primary founders, myself, Sandro Groganz who’s had a long career in Europe and he is a Python developer, Rory MacDonald who is a journalist long associated with Linux in United Kingdom, and he’s now acting more and more as consultant. And something that we noticed was that a lot of these companies had great ideas, in fact it’s not difficult to come up with a really good idea, Mark Twain observed this many years ago.
Louis Saurez-Potts:The hard part is, and it’s really a hard part in fact is actually getting it out, so that other people can appreciate you have a great idea, and then in Open Source there’s one other step, that’s sometimes ludicrously easy, but sometimes equally difficult, getting people to contribute in an interesting and meaningful way to that idea that you have, so that it becomes a commons that other people can use and sustain by their own contributions.
And these are not trivial things for any endeavor or company. It’s actually something that people have to consider and they spend too much time thinking about the strategy or the tactics. They might lose the enthusiasm or lose the spark that actually motivated them to begin with. And so we tried to make it so that the developers, the people who had that creative spark can keep working on it, can build it and bringing other developers and also do the marketing, so that the product that actually gets made, if that’s what the game is all about, can get to the market and can be put in the community commons in such a way that other people can contribute to it in a manner that satisfies both say the originating group, company, whatever, and those who are contributing to it.
It’s really different in some ways from what I would assume with OpenOffice because there it was always unclear and especially when it’s SUN, what exactly the agenda was, was suddenly. I mean, you are laughing out and I can simply say it, three years after SUN’s clunking into the waters of Oracle, but it was never quite clear whether the agenda was to satisfy SUN’s higher-ups or satisfy community, and you always are going to find that tension.
But open source is structurally designed to resolve it or to make it so it’s constantly negotiable tension. It’s always an uncertain balance, it’s one everybody recognizes, something requiring some effort, it’s never set, and so this is moving in a different direction because it just gives us much more agility to work with smaller groups and to say, okay, this is what’s really important. When you are reaching out say to your community, you have to marry a degree of marketing and you have to have the right kind of structure, otherwise you won’t get a meaningful community, you won’t get a sustainable contributor community. You will just get essentially the appearance of it.
Robin Miller:Okay. I have a question that I have been asking people involved with Free and Open Source Software for over 15 years, every single one, how you’re going to make money, where is the beef between the underpants norms and question-marks profit, what for both you and your clients, where do you see the profit coming in, assuming that you don’t all have huge trust funds?
Louis Saurez-Potts:And none of us does really or a very few of us. The profit can come in – this is part of your normalization of open source.
Robin Miller:Great phrase, I love that phrase: normalization of open source.
Louis Saurez-Potts:Yeah, I’m going to touch on that a little bit more because essentially it’s kind of crucial to our business model nowadays versus say a business model of a Red Hat at the very beginning. Nowadays it’s what some people would heavily criticize is that you can sell for example proprietary stuff that is built upon open source, so for example I can have an open source core, that then is have a glitzy enameled proprietary shell and people will then be able or want to use it and I’ll be making my money off the proprietary.
But let’s assume that I don’t even have to do that, so in this case what I’m making money off of would be been paid as a consultant by a corporation because they want the labor, the professional labor, the skills that would be put into making the product. They can’t or they don’t want to hire a whole new contra of employees or people to work on this product, especially when you recognize that it’s going to be going really fast, and the skill-set maybe changing and they maybe wanting to move on to other things.
So they want an Open Source community, plus more of them might want to use the open source as a vehicle for expanding their market, any number of reasons, but those are the classic ones. Fast labor, professional labor and expanding the market, so they want an open source community, they want it sustained, they also want to have their name out there, because they want smart interesting developers _____7:49to Open Source development projects nowadays.
Robin Miller:Smart interesting developers.
Robin Miller:I like the new phrase.
Louis Saurez-Potts:Well, yeah, I mean, it kind of hit Microsoft and they got sometime in the mid-2000s is when they realized that for all their turning blue in the face and holding your breath, they weren’t really attracting a lot of developers whereas companies that were broadcasting their open source bonafides were and it was really the case that if you joined an open source group and project and if you put some effort into it, you could be treated like a genius. And if you went to Microsoft, you were treated like what, a micro surf.
So _____8:37phrase. It’s true. And who wanted that? Yeah, you would get a salary, but it wasn’t an easy salary to get, and yeah, I mean, the developer coming to open source projects, to get back to your question too, wasn’t necessarily making a good salary if you were joining a project with a couple of the people working out of a garage with an almost visibly small chance of selling this product that maybe getting a larger open source community, but they could do what a lot of people did and do which is develop their talents beyond these no school learning, demonstrate with actual code to companies that really cared about this, the actual code part that they can actually do something on their own and have initiative and then move straight into more interesting projects and occupations and paid roles and that’s what a lot have done, and I can give you data on that.
Robin Miller:I probably know a lot of the ones you do, I’ve been following this, you’ve been following it and it’s true, and here’s another thing, I’m just going to sort of throw in here. This Microsoft company you speak of, have they not attempted to work with phones, Apple and Android both claim correctly to have over a million apps, how many are there for Windows, now Nokia, telephone OS, 60,000?
Louis Saurez-Potts:At most, but it’s an interesting point because it’s one of the really brilliant things, so this will be of huge tangent in your interview we can go into later.
Louis Saurez-Potts:But for right now Microsoft, I mean everyone would point out that Microsoft should be a dinosaur, in fact John Cassidy had a really good article in the New Yorker recently, and then he observed, because we have all been proclaiming this, you and I, that Microsoft was only selling the works – it was basically a dinosaur just waiting to turn into tar and that it had happening here was just a miracle of slowness, not really a destiny _____10:54that was its fate.
But we also knew that unlike SUN, the depth of Microsoft’s market penetration was such that it will take decades for that momentum to ebb and Microsoft is also making a vast amount of money every goddamn year and stuffing bushels for that because it is the enterprises that are still finding what Microsoft produces to be very good and it is good for the enterprises’ use. Whether the security issues that are becoming more apparent will change that is of some interest and see how Microsoft response is also of interest. But the big difference between Apple and Microsoft and open source and Microsoft and Apple is basically the focus in case of Apple on the individual consumer or rather the consumer who is invigorated by becoming a member of kind of invisible college of consumers. You get the reference: invisible college to magic. If you were part of this, you were somehow both an individual and a member of some invisible grand theme.
Robin Miller:What I want to talk with you about today, what I want to talk about today is, how does your company expect to make money?
Louis Saurez-Potts:Well. So, this is it, what I do is I give consultations on how you structure a productive community efficiently. And for the most part it’s pretty self-evident for those of us who have been in the field a long time. But that’s only in the abstract, in the concrete I have to lay out specific programs, specific plans and then implement them. This is a lot of work. It’s basically another way of putting it, you can shift everything having to do with free and open source software from this and just call it a marketing plan and call it a product plan, because what I need to do is, I have to say, okay, this is what the product is that you are aiming for, let’s get the pitch, let’s get the angle, that’s how you get the notion probably want to represent this.
And my colleagues for example, Rory will come up with PR plans for this, Sandro might come up with a marketing plan, we’ll come up with a total package that we can then present and then implement. The implementation means, say for example if the developer hasn’t already done this and most have developing a _____13:35environment so it’s more useful for and usable by outside developers, broadcasting back to outside developers, finding out who those outside developers are and where they hang out.
So for example if you’re doing Python, it might be reasonable to say go to a gaming community conference because that’s where a lot of Python people go. Setting up say a foundation, all this is basically work that the company would pay us to do on a classic contract basis or the classic-classic quantity user amounts that we will paid. And the weird thing is, the people that I started off with at CollabNet a dozen years ago.
Louis Saurez-Potts:Many of us are doing the same thing now. So for example Karl Fogel who wrote the book on open source communities, he’s a consultant par excellence working with another guy doing roughly the same thing, a lot of other people are doing very similar work, setting up communities, being experts in certain areas, giving license advice. I can get license advice like most people who live and breathe open source that I would also refer them to someone like Larry Rosen because they want the more nuanced advice or _____14:55very good experts that I know of, introducing them to the right kind of people, putting up a website that actually is useful and useable, but most importantly just letting the company understand and this is where we get most of our money or we perhaps earn our keep, the importance of marketing and structuring the community environment so that people actually want and will continue to contribute and this is really not easy to do.
Robin Miller:Nobody said it was, but you’re getting
Louis Saurez-Potts:Most people think it is.
Robin Miller:Well, I never thought it was because I watched so many people fail at it.
Louis Saurez-Potts:Yes it is.
Robin Miller:Now, so your business, the way your money comes is primarily from corporate clients and you’re getting clients, is that correct?
Louis Saurez-Potts:We are. Most of us is having coming out of our ears as it were and I’ve always seen more clients because the way the clients works is like raining, sometimes it rains and then it pours. It’s the nature of consulting work is that you spend half the time tightening your belt and the other half loosening it.
Robin Miller:I wear pants with elastic waistbands.
Louis Saurez-Potts:That might be the case. We always want more clients.
Robin Miller:You always want more clients and they’re out there to get.
Louis Saurez-Potts:They are out there to get but you see they don’t know about groups like ours because although there’s an increasing number of them, if you were to type into Google “open source community management,” you couldn’t find many companies or groups coming up. There is Jono Bacon’s Community Leadership Summit which he initiated several years ago that’s held just before OSCON in Portland in July and that’s actually a great place for companies to go and meet people who are involved in this, that people don’t quite get and that’s probably not our fault, the distinction between say community management, say versus social media which you find every quarter and it’s kind of a mid level junior position at most and open source community management which is actually quite difficult and we can find plenty of examples say out of Red Hat and even HP _____17:19but it’s really quite different there because you have to have someone who is _____17:26about the technology, they may have to be a coder, but they have to be able to work with coders in a way that they can suffer the insults of a coder say, which most people can’t. It takes a pretty thick skin, it’s not pleasant, it can be very painful, but essentially what it comes down to is this, you got to be honest.
Louis Saurez-Potts:And if you propagate, if you pretend to have knowledge when you don’t really, you’re wasting people’s time and they won’t let you forget that.
Robin Miller:Yes, you are so right.
Louis Saurez-Potts:You don’t want to waste people’s time.
Robin Miller:Okay, let me give you a hypothetical, so here you are and you’re seeing this guy, what’s his name, on Slashdot in this interview and you have this great idea and you want it to be open source because you’re a believer and you want it to be open source, it will cure lung cancer, really it will, it’s the first code that could be written to cure lung cancer, I’m being silly of course.
Louis Saurez-Potts:Not really, but anyway.
Robin Miller:But should this person come to you and what would you do, we are talking about the guy is 23 years old, he’s working in some little nowhere job, maintaining a system for a small business and he’s got no money, can you help this guy?
Louis Saurez-Potts:Yes. But for something that would be such a fantastic boon to all of mankind, there are some things that immediately come to mind, for example
Robin Miller:What if it was just something that was better than Facebook?
Louis Saurez-Potts:Anything like that, yes we can help this person and the reason why we would want open source as a strategy isn’t because open source is necessarily good, it’s not, it’s just the way of doing things that can be generally for a lot of coding purposes more useful because you can get things done more quickly if it’s organized correctly. The reason I would want it to be open source so is because this guy is just one person, so he needs to get it out there both as a development space, something that people can develop on and also to market it. And he needs to further, if it actually has a genuine value independent of the price, but he might charge for it that is a value that people can add to.
Robin Miller:Nowyou guys, you’re helping him out of the goodness of your hearts, do you help find a corporate sponsor, how do you.
Louis Saurez-Potts:I would be doing out of investment.
Robin Miller:You what?
Louis Saurez-Potts:I would think of it as a kind of investment.
Louis Saurez-Potts:And I have done this now three timeswhere the person has a great idea, it’s not open source, I want to persuade him to make parts of it open source and make it entirely open source and I’ll do pro bono work to get it to the position where he can actually see the merits and say open sourcing it and then you see that it makes sense for him if he’s getting enough money. If he has reached a point where we can actually make some money that goes beyond that he wanted me just to keep himself alive if he _____20:52money for this. And I have done this stuff three times and it’s actually been fairly successful and so I would do something like this for this situation. Usually though people will pay because we’re consultants and we know the story of consultants, the check is in the mail you know, we want the money upfront for the work that we’re doing and the biggest problem the consultant always faces is getting that check out of the mail and into your bank. This is true of every consultant. It’s been this way since the beginning of time I think.
Robin Miller:But there is a market for a farce community consultancy.
Louis Saurez-Potts:Yes there is.
Robin Miller:I think that’s
Louis Saurez-Potts:It’s an interesting market.
Robin Miller:It is. And I’m going to say good luck and we’ll come back to you later to see how things are going some months from now.