Open Is Dead.

Open is dead.

That’s the conclusion I came to at a recent meeting of people gathered to talk about how to advance the Open Data agenda.

Open isn’t dead as a movement, it’s dead as a term that can be used to excite people, get them to rally around a cause, show up at an event, put themselves on the line for something.

Open Gov. Open Cities. Open Data. Open Source. All of these things are worthwhile things to pursue. All of the terms are tired and ineffective in advancing any agendas.

You’re never going to sell the wider world on the idea of Open. Other than the (relatively) small number of geeks who have already embraced it, people in general don’t care about Open. Politicians will never come out en masse for Open. Housewives (and house husbands) will never wake up thinking about Open.

Why? Because Open doesn’t seem to solve any of their immediate problems. It’s abstract. Fuzzy. It’s got a We Are The World feeling to it, but (like the song) there’s nothing concrete beneath that fuzziness.

If I’m a politician, why should I be in favor of Open Gov? If I’m a corporation, why should I be in favor of Open Data? That’s not clear. Certainly not by just hearing the name.

Okay, sure, Open Whatever sounds great if we’re talking about YOUR stuff being open. I love it when your stuff is open. (Free stuff!) But if we’re talking about MY stuff being open, what exactly is the value in that to me? I give away my stuff to… my competitors? My enemies? How does that work? What do I get out of that?

That’s what the term Open fails to explain, and what it HAS to explain if people who like Open are going to move it to the next level.

And the thing is, openness is not the end goal of Open. Open is a means to an end. It’s a means to a better, leaner, more reciprocal, more win-win ecosystem. And EVERYONE understands those terms. Even house husbands politicians. So why are we stuck on this term Open, which doesn’t pack the full punch it needs to? It’s time to bury the term Open and move beyond it to more meaningful, value-apparent terms. It’s time to get rid of the Old Open and talk about the New Open. Shared. Mutual. Reciprocal. Symbiotic. Win-win. Those are terms and ideas that people understand and that have value to them.

And they’re the terms that people (like me) who think things should be more Open should be using.

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11 Responses to Open Is Dead.

  1. Excellent snapshot of the moment.

  2. Terms aren’t meant to “excite people”, “rally around a cause”, or “move an agenda”. The purpose of a term is to define an idea so we can effectively communicate with clarity to each other. What you seem to be describing is not a term but a slogan or a buzzword. With this you may be right. Open as a slogan is dead. The word open is losing its “marketing” value because it has been diluted to mean too many things to too many people. Open as a slogan is dead and that is probably a good thing. Open as a term isn’t dead but it is, however, becoming increasing less useful because of this dilution. Abuse and overuse reduces clarity and hurts are ability to effectively communicate. Without effective communication we can’t move forward towards actually solve real problems.

    I think that “open” when applied appropriately to words for the purpose of clarity and specificity, still does have some value (open source, open access, etc). I think this is because their respective communities have effectively worked to establish a clear meaning to the term and its usage. For the open source or open access community using the term “open” isn’t a pithy battle cry but an extremely useful term for helping to communicate to others a complex idea with brevity.

    I think the solution to the problem isn’t that we abandon the word “open” in search of a new buzzword or slogan. I think that the solution is that we reclaim the word “open” and restore its meaning (this is similar to the problem of trademark dilution). After that I think the community as a whole should be vigilant when people affix “open” to words. We should ruthlessly question what does this mean? what do you mean “open” -x. what does open x mean? How is it open? etc.

    As for the whole “open” as a slogan thing, I think that it is a serious mistake to approach the problem like this. A great idea doesn’t need a slogan. A good idea will eventually sell itself. The problem with “open” is that it is a means to an end and not a goal unto itself. This is why people have a hard time rallying other people around “open” since it is extremely difficult to explain/demonstrate the value of “openness” in its totality broadly to uninformed people in terms of tangible benefits. The solution to this is probably just better outreach with more of an emphasis on education to help people better understand the various issues and problems.

  3. johngeraci says:

    Thanks for the comment Justin. I agree with you that a term needs to define an idea so we can effectively communicate it to each other. And I think a central aspect of this is that a term should convey the core value proposition of the idea. Otherwise it’s not really communicating the idea effectively, is it?

    I would argue that the term “Open” doesn’t convey the core value prop of Open X (Open Gov, Open Data, Open Cities, etc) *at all*. Quite the opposite, it assumes that people using the term already understand the implicit value of the term, which means that it only works to convey information to people already in the know, people already on the same page. That’s not really effective communication in my book.

    And I disagree that a term shouldn’t be used to excite people or cause them to rally around a cause. If the thing you’re describing IS a cause, your term had better make people want to rally around it, otherwise your name is going to work against you. Naming isn’t just taxonomy, it’s marketing as well. Good ideas DO need slogans. Why do you think so many good ideas have them?

  4. Karim Fathi says:

    Excellent post and comments.

    This make me think about another field that is Ecology; earlier in the 40’s and even before that, many people were spreading the ecological ethics wisdom, but those were scientists, researchers and professors.

    The words green, ecolo, environmentally responsible… were used for years but weren’t self explanatory words for the majority until links start to pop-up in the mass media between climate changing and carbon emissions.

    I think the “open” or any buzzword we may come up with to market the ideology behind it need this kind of sparkle to make it easily adopted and understood for non-techies. and because this just didn’t happen yet, people don’t feel the urge or the gain they will get by adopting open-Xthing.

    In a hypothetical scenario, we can imagine a big “closed-source” company like, let’s say bOracle or mAapple, one day, stop making a widely used tool to consume information. so governments and business can no more even manipulate their own data because the tool isn’t no more and the code behind it was closed so they can’t even easily create their own software to get to THEIR valuable data… I know this won’t happen tomorrow or so, but you get the point.

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  6. A more accurate title would be “Open” is dead.

    Besides being a pedant, I guess I’m also one of the “geeks who [has] already embraced it,” since the headline provoked me to “open” and read the piece.

  7. johngeraci says:

    You’re right, Gavin. But I never was much of a pedant…

  8. Mat Todd says:

    Agree with the central idea here – it is important to demonstrate tangible (selfish?) benefits to a broader church. I tried to do so in the title of this paper last week.

    (Also agree with the need for quoted “open” in the title, though…)

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  10. David Eads says:

    The term “open” has always been something of a joke to me: What is opened tends to be the easy, inevitable, and not particularly meaningful stuff. Some of this data has real value, but those who are serious about using data of various sorts to create a “better, leaner, more reciprocal, more win-win ecosystem” (I think you meant “justice”) will continue to do it how they always have: through political pressure and legal instruments.

  11. alberto says:

    great analysis, not very accurate in my opinion

    it is true that open is not a goal in itself but is the way to achieve it, so it is part of the solution..