Open Source, Meet RedMonk. RedMonk, Meet Open Source

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Last Friday, my colleague finally published a mini-manifesto he’s had in the hopper for about a month or so, which I humbly suggest that you all read (it’s long, but worth it). In it, he discusses some frustrations we at RedMonk have with the industry analyst business – our own business – and some things we’re trying to do to in response.

The short version is that we’re aiming to become less of a traditional industry analyst firm (although I think most of those who’ve worked with us already would say we’re anything but traditional), and more of an open source analysis firm. We’re going to try to prove Andy Lark correct, in essence, and imbue our business with a healthy dose of open source.

This goal, to date, has been met with varying responses ranging from approval to cynicism to skepticism. All of those reactions are, in my opinion, quite appropriate. Despite these mixed reviews, I believe passionately that this is not only the right move for RedMonk, but really a recognition of what we feel is an inevitable trend.

It’s easy to understand the skepticism, however, because the industry analyst business is not a very progressive or open source friendly one. It is in fact a business increasingly populated by mercenaries, a business built on proprietary content and analysis, and a business that often seems infatuated with itself and the perceived power it wields. The cynicism, then, is predictable because given the state of our industry the natural conclusion is that we just want to slap “open source” on our wares in hopes of riding the coat tails of a massive change agent. I won’t try and convince you that’s not the case here, as you’re all smart folks and you’ll be able to judge that for yourself.

We do admit up front that we don’t have all the answers. Where is open source best applied to our business model? How will we get enterprises and vendors to engage more fully in a conversation? What will the community think of this approach? How do we forge and maintain a good relationship with the community? What impact will this have on the analyst business as a whole?

We have ideas, of course, but in some respects these are uncharted waters. We hope that you’ll be along for the ride and help us answer some of these questions with your input, your comments, and – of course – your criticisms. Our customers will also play a major part in this experiment, as they ultimately are the ones paying our salaries.

Simply put, we believe this is the right move at the right time for the right reasons. In a follow up post I’ll take a stab at a general Q&A (here’s James’ initial effort) to give more specifics on what – specifically – we think it means to be an open source industry analyst firm.

The biggest question for many of you is probably why (although “How are you going to make money?” is likely running a close second)? I won’t speak for James here, but these are a few things that I have come to believe in that lead me to conclude this is not an act of lunacy.

  1. Open Source is as Applicable to Industry Analysis as it is to Software:

    I’m sure I don’t need to explain open source to anyone reading this, nor the impact it’s had on the world of software. But open source, to me, is a much larger wave that will wash over the world of industry analysis sooner or later. No longer are analysts the gatekeepers, the keeper of product secrets arcane and unknown. Why? The source code for the operating systems, application servers, and databases that power behemoths like Amazon and Google is freely available (yes, I know they have secret sauce as well). We’re all, in some sense, analysts now. Everyone posting their own review of the latest Linux distro, everyone posting detailed critiques of Tomcat installation gotchas, everyone providing feature suggestions for the open source project of their choice. The analyst business is struggling to adapt to that change, whether we like it or not.

  2. Great Ideas Come Can Come from Anyone:

    James and I often informally refer to this as the Jon Udell rule, because we find it amusing that industry analysts are often portrayed as the sole source of technology analysis. Anyone who reads Jon knows that his analysis is as cogent and insightful as any analysts, and if I do say so myself, usually more so. But that sort of brilliance can be found anywhere – from people you know like Adam Bosworth of Google and Miguel de Icaza of Novell to people you might not, like Alan Taylor (inventor of Amazon Light 4.0) or Josh Schachter (inventor of del.icio.us). I’ll talk to anyone, because I’m continually surprised by what people have to teach me.

  3. The Group Mind is Smarter than the Individual:

    Call this one the Slashdot rule. This was a lesson I learned as from my days as a systems integrator who didn’t have access to high priced analyst research: Slashdot, the Server Side, and various Linux forums possess a wealth of information. In a world of information overload, these virtual hive minds are a tremendous resource. Here’s how Bosworth describes their value:

    What has been new is information overload. Email long ago became a curse. Blogreaders only exacerbate the problem. I can’t even imagine the video or audio equivalent because it will be so much harder to filter through. What will be new is people coming together to rate, to review, to discuss, to analyze, and to provide 100,000 Zagat’s, models of trust for information, for goods, and for services…

    You want to see the future. Don’t look at Longhorn. Look at Slashdot. 500,000 nerds coming together everyday just to manage information overload. Look at BlogLines. What will be the big enabler? Will it be Attention.XML as Steve Gillmor and Dave Sifry hope? Or something else less formal and more organic? It doesn’t matter. The currency of reputation and judgment is the answer to the tragedy of the commons and it will find a way. This is where the action will be. Learning Avalon or Swing isn’t going to matter. Machine learning and inference and data mining will.

    What does this mean? It tells me once more that an analyst’s role and value-add to their customer needs to change, because Slashdot may be just for geeks now, but sooner or later we’ll see a Slashdot for CIOs, by CIOs.

  4. An Idea’s Power is Proportional to Its Audience:

    As a small shop, this lesson is of particular importance to us, and one we learned well from the highly successful release of our COA model under a Creative Commons license. Not having massive marketing and sales staffs at our disposal, our reach is only as broad as the people who read our material. Keeping content under lock and key, therefore, is not a sound strategy. Hence the time we invest in our blogs.

  5. Proprietary Analysis is a Myth:

    Analysis does not occur in a vacuum. Industry analysts don’t wake up one day understanding the issues, for example, facing relational database bottlenecks in service driven environments. The analysis is the product of a conversation with hundreds or thousands of customers, practitioners, technologists, DBAs, developers, architects, etc. To date, the primary beneficiaries of these conversations have been the analyst firms, but we believe the process can and should be more equitable, more bidirectional. More open source, if you will. This is one of the reasons we try and leave time at the end of any briefing to answer questions – for free – from the enterprises or vendors we speak with. We learn a lot from them, so it’s only fair that we give something back in return

  6. Open Source is About More than Source Code:

    An often overlooked, but no less important, aspect of the open source movement are its cultural values. The cultural analogy, I think, is quite appropriate, because open source does exhibit many characteristics of an actual nationality or culture at times. We have wars, mobs, and slander to go along with brilliance, institutional memory, and staggeringly comprehensive knowledge. While open source does lack, in my opinion and with all due respect to Richard Stallman, a consistent set of behaviors, it’s clear that some values are core. Openness, transparency, and reasonable economics are, I would argue, core principles to which most in the open source world would subscribe. What does this mean to the analyst world? Many things, but it’s difficult, for example, to see how analyst firms that want to charge vendors merely for the right to brief their analysts will be successful longer term.

Anyhow, I know this is rather long winded but as you might have gathered it’s a rather complex issue for us. As I mentioned, I’ll have another Q&A online this week with more details, but in the meantime I’d welcome any feedback you guys might have – for or against, good or bad.

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  1. mini manifesto? some folks have already inferred its too long to read… lucky you express our ideas more clearly

  2. mini being a relative description. compared to the Unabomber's manifesto, for example, yours is postitively pithy 😉

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