It isn’t long since my last blog was posted, and my attention is already drawn to a very active and first-rate leader in the FinTech industry who writes to the effect that open sourcing will give us far better knowledge about how historically closed structures operate (who’s involved, what they are doing, why, and so on).
He goes on to say that digitalisation “not only creates a record of activity but, if it is combined with distributed ledger technology, a record of truth. Every action can be recorded on the ledger, with immutability.”
Further, that interoperation through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) “means that everyone can have access. Everyone can build smarter, better, more intelligent apps and services by combining the best of the world’s code with their code. This will make the world a better place, as companies will keep developing iterations of services, each one leveraging a new API that improves the customer experience”.
That’s several arguments, so let’s take them one by one.
First, will open sourcing will give us far better knowledge about how historically closed structures operate (who’s involved, what they are doing, why, and so on)? Possibly, yes. But not necessarily. Because open sourcing doesn’t prevent anyone from using open-sourced code to do business in private. There are, for example, several Linux-based companies, and it is difficult to demonstrate that the internal goings-on of these companies are more public than those in companies which do not use open source code.
So how about his statement that digitalisation “not only creates a record of activity but, if it is combined with distributed ledger technology, a record of truth. Every action can be recorded on the ledger, with immutability.” Well, the immutability bit is nearly 100% true (all codes and systems can and will be cracked sometime… but “the record of truth” bit is true for the present). Though that doesn’t mean that the immutable record has necessarily to be open to the public. The immutable record could remain visible only to as few as three individuals. In practice, at present, it is usually visible to many more, but that need not be the case; “private distributed ledgers” can exist as well as “public distributed ledgers”.
OK, so how about the statement: interoperation through APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) “means that everyone can have access”? Hmm, as with everything else in the tech world, that depends entirely on whether the specific API *allows* everyone access, or only some people.
Ah, but is it not true that “everyone can build smarter, better, more intelligent apps and services by combining the best of the world’s code with their code”. Well, let’s say that – yes, it is. However, that doesn’t mean that the world will necessarily be “a better place”.
Why not, if “companies keep developing iterations of services, each one leveraging a new API that improves the customer experience”? Because improved customer experience doesn’t mean the world is a better place, it only means that the world is a better place for customers. It might be a worse place for non-customers, and there might be more non-consumers than consumers.
How about if everyone in the world could be a customer? Then of course it would mean better customer experience for that many more people. But would even that mean that the world, as a whole, would be better?
To answer that, let’s imagine that the whole world could join a new gold rush in California tomorrow. Unlike the California Gold Rush in the 1840s, which brought brought in merely some 300,000 people, let us say that our 2017 gold rush brings in 300 million people. Let’s also imagine that picks and shovels and other equipment needed for the gold mining are now “open sourced”. Naturally, each iteration of the equipment will indeed be better than the last, and this will undoubtedly lead to great customer satisfaction on the part of the 300 million people involved in the new gold rush.
But who would be making more money than the miners? Those who were manufacturing the equipment that was being sold repeatedly to the 300 million miners.
In the tech world, as in every other world, some people are more equal than others.
Those who are after good experience as customers might want to give some fleeting thought to the quality of the experience of those who’re making money from the selling 🙂
Much better to be a shareholder than a customer.
Ha, you say, what about “prosumers”? That’s another story. We’ll come to that another time.
Meanwhile, remember: it is better for you to be a shareholder in the equipment company than a customer of the equipment company.
“Unless I strike gold!”, you say.
So: best of luck. Your world might indeed be better then.
But if you want technology to contribute to a more open and democratic world, we’ll all need to be much more active in politics, in citizen groups, in civil society – not only to make sure that the right policies and the right regulation exist, but also that they are applied.