Hats Off to the Digital Commons – quick review of “Economic Impact of Open Source on Small Business: A Case Study”



Economic Impact of Open Source on Small Business: A Case Study”; Mike Hendrickson, Roger Magoulas, and Tim O’Reilly; July 2012; O’Reilly Media.

The radical theory and practices of the digital commons are very relevant for archivists and digital curators today.  Commons thinking challenges the conventional roles of institutions in preserving and providing access to archives, and may also help justify costly digitisation or digital preservation projects. These and other themes (such as creative commons licensing) are explored in the video presentations now available from the website of the recent Economies of the Commons 3 conference in Amsterdam. See also the blog posts of David Bollier.

An essential element of the digital commons is open source software, such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, JavaScript, and WordPress. The authors of Economic Impact of Open Source on Small Business describe how “like the ecosystem services provided by the sun, the open source software that makes the web possible disappears from our accounting.”

This 50 page Radar Report from O’Reilly Media is appropriately open source at £0.00 – so there are no excuses not to have a quick browse. The book attempts to speak up for the developers of open source software projects and the communities that support them – the “unsung heroes of the economy” – by placing an economic value on their work product.

The report is based upon data obtained from a web hosting company that provides services to over 2 million customers, most of them small and medium sized businesses (SMBs). The majority of the report is a comprehensive survey of the ISP’s customers, detailing how SMBs use ISP services in their business model and the technologies they employ, with simple graphical representations of the data.

Interesting facts discovered along the way include:

  • PayPal is the dominant internet payment mechanism, outstripping direct credit card payments by nearly 2:1
  • WordPress is a far more important open source product than most people give it credit for and it is as widely used as MySQL and PHP
  • Open source hosting alternatives have at least a 2:1 cost advantage relative to proprietary solutions

The authors lay out their assumptions and work up a model to estimate that businesses that rely on hosting/domain name providers for their web presence represent a trillion dollar market. Two case studies look at return on investment scenarios, including some surprising assumptions regarding the profitability of Search Engine Optimisation and Google Adwords. The report concludes with an analysis of programming language trends.

Overall, a rather dry and business-like report but important for its recognition of the economic role of open source. The book is available for free download via http://oreillynet.com/oreilly/opensource/radarreports/economic-impact-of-open-source.csp or via Amazon for Kindle.


Information Management in the UN and EU


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“Why intergovernmental organisations need more information managers just like you– a presentation delivered by Stephen James Howard to the London group of the Information & Records Management Society on Thursday 13th September 2012 at the Heritage Lottery Fund, London. James Lappin from Thinking Records also delivered a presentation at this event on “Records management approaches in European Union institutions”.

The presentation started with a video statement by Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, from June 2010.

“Hello everybody, archives hold the key to our human story. They are the root, the source; they are our precious store of eyewitness account and original documents. Thousands of people look after archives all over the world. On behalf of all of us, I pay tribute to their indispensable work. The United Nations is proud to take an active part in preserving our common heritage. Since 1945, we have documented a story of our times in writing, in photographs, in sound recordings and in video. New technology provides great opportunities to share this rich inheritance. Archives only come alive when they are open and accessible to all. We must treasure them and preserve them for future generations.”

Read the full presentation here.

Where should our archival strategies take us now?


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“In thinking about archival strategies, we need to think not only about how to redefine goals or measures, redefine the actors, and change degree of risk or reward, but also how to identify opportunities and develop methods that exploit them.” Archival Strategies. American Archivist, vol. 58, 1994, pp.374-407 by David Bearman.

In 1989 David Bearman challenged the existing hegemony of redundant archival practices in his essay Archival Methods. Due to a “shortfall between documented needs and proven methods…greater than one order of magnitude”, he called for a “redefinition of the problems, the objectives, the methods or the technologies appropriate to the archival endeavor”. No process or purpose was spared in his wide-ranging critique: selection and appraisal; retention and preservation; arrangement and description; access and use; and the value of recorded memory and cultural continuity.

Bearman’s diagnosis seems prescient and perhaps even more persuasive today. For example, the contemporary records manager’s general inability to manage email records, on both a personal and more importantly organisational level, is a pertinent example of the “order of magnitude” cul-de-sac in which we find ourselves when our goals are uncertain and our methods no longer practical.

Bearman further developed his critique in the 1994 essay Archival Strategies, recommending new strategic objectives for archives as evidence, and suggesting oblique tactical steps to reach these measurable outcomes via internal and external levers for change. The tactics included implementing self-documenting systems, letting users describe records, leaving records with record creators and appraising business functions not records. He advised that “it is important to keep in mind that archival strategies produce archival outcomes, they are not necessarily strategies directed or conducted by archivists”.

I have adopted Bearman’s essay as the unofficial manifesto for this blog, as an example to myself and others how bold and creative the archivist and strategic information manager must become. Coincidentally, the excellent Future Proof blog has also been writing a manifesto this week, and the need to be strategic is first in the list. Are there any more manifestos out there to suggest a revolutionary “archival spring” sometime soon?