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2009/12/22 - On the Meaning of Open

posted Dec 22, 2009, 5:04 PM by Rick Anderson   [ updated Dec 22, 2009, 6:08 PM ]
Google's Senior Vice President of Product Management, Jonathan Rosenburg, posted to Google's blog an internal memo to his product managers on the meaning of open.  It's a superbly written memo in regards to innovation, openness, competition, and delivers a golden path for his product managers as well as engineers that I believe deems well for Google and those who rely on and utilize Google products.  I highly encourage you to follow the link and read the memo yourself, but a quick summary:

* open systems win - they lead to value, innovation, and freedom of choice for consumers as well as a vibrant, profitable, and competitive ecosystem for business.

* Google defines open in two components: (a) open technology - code and (b) open information - use information to drive consumer value, transparent about consumer's data, and the consumer has ultimate control of their data

* open systems are the opposite of traditional closed systems, but there are historical examples in business - human genome, railroad track standards, automotive patent cross-licensing, and tcp/ip of the internet

* open systems can become closed and then fragmentation occurs - unix and now Android - obviously Google is not happy with others generating closed loop business systems from open source - although they acknowledge that others have a right to do so as there are no legal rules against doing so - however, it limits innovation and causes consumer pain - see my blog entry of December 17th where I talk about the various flavors of Android - the market demands innovation but dumb MBA marketing gurus will always try to generate a closed loop system (ie - the Motorola Cliq)

* the new form of commerce is the exchange of personal information for something of value - its use should be guided by principles that are responsible, scalable, and flexible to ultimately build trust with those who engage in the ecosystem

* trust is the most important currency and must adhere to three principles - value, transparency, and control

* value - users must perceive a received value from the information that they share

* transparency - make it easy for users to see and understand what information they are sharing

* control - users must have control of their information - they should always have an out - they are always in control of their data - no traps, they can always liberate themselves (they won't leave if Google continues to be innovative and build the best products and services)

What an outstanding post about business and markets in the forthcoming decade and how to deliver value to your customers.  The best way to finish this post is to quote Jonathan directly from his last two paragraphs...

"Open will win. It will win on the Internet and will then cascade across many walks of life: The future of government is transparency. The future of commerce is information symmetry. The future of culture is freedom. The future of science and medicine is collaboration. The future of entertainment is participation. Each of these futures depends on an open Internet.

As Google product managers, you are building something that will outlast all of us, and none of us can imagine all the ways Google will grow and touch people's lives. In that way, we are like our colleague Vint Cerf, who didn't know exactly how many networks would want to be part of this "Internet" so he set the default to open. Vint certainly got it right. I believe we will too."

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