“There are analyst firms and then there’s Red Monk.” – Tim O’Reilly
It would be impossible for me to explain to you just how flattered I was when I first heard that line reported. Not because it came from a personage of Tim’s stature. Or at least, not just because of that. It was flattering, rather, because I genuinely believe it to be true. I’ll leave the discussion of the relative merits of analyst models for another time; for now, suffice it to say, that I do believe RedMonk is different.
We’re in business, so yes, the primary objective is money. But we try – always – to do things the right way. That, as much as the tangible strategic advantages it afforded, was the fuel for our conversion to an open source model years back.
As I told the audience at WordCamp I delivered these slides to (good coverage of it can be found here), we at RedMonk often bill ourselves – both formally and informally – as the “open source” analyst firm. We’re careful to draw a clear distinction, of course, between the ultimate utility of our “source” and that of the many projects we cover, analyze and run our business on. No one’s going to confuse our paltry contributions with those of major open source projects.
But it is important to us that our content be considered open, which was why we’ve published under Creative Commons’ licenses for years now.
It’s also why a very polite but firm criticism of our particular license choice – made by a gentleman who should feel free to name himself here – hit me pretty hard. We were not, the argument went, truly “open source” because we were publishing content under a non-commercial license. This provision violates the first condition of the Open Source Definition as defined by the OSI. Worse, it’s something I’ve criticized Microsoft for in the past, so not only were we not as “open source” as we believed ourselves to be, I specifically was a hypocrite.
Hypocritical or not, however, I was loathe to relinquish the protection of the non-commercial provision on recently released content, as it protects us from one or two exceedingly unlikely but potentially damaging situations. So we were stuck. Or so I thought.
Fortunately, RedMonk is the beneficiary of some remarkable suggestions from some remarkable individuals, and it didn’t take long for a solution to emerge in this case. The always excellent Dalibor Topic, hearing of our plight in the RedMonk IRC channel (#redmonk on freenode), suggested what should have been obvious: apply, dynamically, licenses based on date. Brilliant, and an idea that I should have come up with myself, but thanks to our community I didn’t have to.
Looking around, I was unable to find a WordPress Creative Commons licensing plugin that had this functionality, so I turned to my friend and one of the better developers I know, Alex King. Alex and his crew over at Crowd Favorite then built for us – and for you, as the plugin is both open source and freely available – Progressive License, the plugin you can see in action on this blog right now.
Simply stated, it allows you to dynamically apply licenses based on datestamps. In other words, it permits the “graduation” of content from one license to another. In my case, as an example, it applies a Creative Commons noncommercial license for the first 60 days – this one – and then retires the noncommercial provision after that time period, applying this license on everything older than 60 days.
As I told the audience at WordCamp yesterday when I announced the plugin, I view this as a win for everyone involved.
- RedMonk wins because we get the plugin we want, and now the overwhelming majority of our content will be available under terms that meet the OSI’s definition.
- Crowd Favorite wins because they get paid, and they get the credit for the plugin’s development.
- WordPress wins because they get a new, more granularly functional WordPress plugin for free.
- The Creative Commons wins because they get more sophisticated WordPress functionality, and by extension, more liberally licensed content.
- Open Source wins because the plugin is free software, buildable and modifiable by anyone with the inclination.
The Progressive License plugin is, it must be said, one likely to be of minor interest to those lacking real concerns about how their content is licensed. But for us, and possibly for others like us, it’s a real boon.
I’m not happy with the fact that we were technically in violation of the OSI terms for so long – unwittingly or no. Ignorance is not an adequate excuse, especially for me of all people. But when I promised to address this situation back in June, I meant it.
And I am happy that by way of our efforts to find a solution, we were able to both inject some money into the open source ecosystem and gift it with a potentially useful open source plugin. One which should help others avoid our situation, and generate volumes of more liberally licensed content.
As Tim O’Reilly said, there are analyst firms and there is RedMonk. We don’t claim to be perfect, but we’ll continue to do the best we can to do the right thing.
Thanks here are due to Dalibor for the suggestion, Alex and his team for the work, and Matt for the invite to speak at WordCamp. When you’re there to talk about open source and business models, it’s nice to be able to not just talk, but to do.
We hope you enjoy Progressive License.