Sunday, 29 March 2015

Track 2: Openness and innovation

The idea of openness has captured people’s imagination. The openness of the Internet has enabled entrepreneurs to innovate without seeking permission. Open source software development models have facilitated the creation of reliable and responsive software platforms, and even created new platforms such as the Web. Open standards, application programming interfaces (API), and open data have enabled the creation or new and bespoke products and services. The adaptive approach to design has allowed users to become the final designers of their tools. Indeed, even in business the idea of corporate open innovation is taking hold. We will examine these phenomena, consider what is distinctive about openness, ask ‘Why now?’, and consider the future potential of innovation based on openness.


Robert Cailliau

Mark Birbeck, Managing Director, webBackplane

Ian Forrester, Senior Producer, BBC Backstage, BBC Future Media & Technology

Matt Webb, co-founder, Schulze & Webb


Bill Thompson, journalist, commentator and technology critic


Robert Cailliau The World Wide Web would not have been possible without the contributions of hundreds of people, each of whom sometimes contributed very little, such as the suggestion for a tag or a small converter. These contributions acted like an explosion of diversity in which the natural selection of ‘what works and what does not’ chose the best stuff. The visibility of these contributions, and more even the observable level of activity of individuals made clear a ‘hierarchy’ of competences. There was a fairly short time of chaotic activity after which it coalesced into the more firm and deliberate actions of the Web Consortium. The success of the Consortium depended crucially on enlisting the grass-roots effort by making it possible to influence the standards at little cost.

Openness therefore is not just the public availability of the finished ideas, but essentially resides in the openness of the process itself and even more in the openness of the group: can an individual join and contribute?

There remains the problem of remuneration and independence. Any developer, whether it is of business processes or of software, needs to eat and sleep (though I sometimes wonder about the latter). Therefore they need some income. If the income is not generated by the activity, then the question of independence is raised and that in turn will influence openness. The main problem with openness then is: who funds it? That was clear in the case of the Web Consortium, but how would it be done in the general case?

The second problem is one of continuation: how does one ensure that a top-class person remains committed long enough to a project, when there is not much other than their own interest that binds them to it? At least for the open contributions to content the idea of micropayments might help (why do we still not have them?), but for other areas that is much less simple.

Reports and Commentary

Does openness lead to innovation? at TCS Innovations, Bill Thompson [panel chair], TCS Innovations, June 22nd, 2008. More of a reflection on the themes than on the session itself. “We need to explore the complex relationship between expressiveness and creativity and openness, and perhaps be a lot clearer about what we mean by ‘open’.”


How the Web Was Born James Gillies, Robert Cailliau (Oxford University Press, 2000) []

Bookmark for Audio: Vint Cerf interview,Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 29/08/2007 [audio]

Bookmark for PDA: New York Times, and what to do with that API, Jemima Kiss, Guardian, May 27, 2008

Bookmark for How AT&T chewed up, and spat out Net Neutrality Andrew Orlowski, The Register, 10th January 2007

Bookmark for Adobe exec updates open source group think, Gavin Clarke, The Register, 21st August 2007