The OSS trap

Baldur Bjarnason writes:

I’m reminded of the only real tech bubble I’ve personally witnessed: the rise and fall of blogging. They’re very different phenomena, but blogging and open-source are solid examples of big corporations strategically subsidising a complement to their core business with no care being paid to collateral damage.

Google Adwords changed all of that. That, as well as free weblog hosting, fuelled the blogging bubble. You wrote a blog using a weblog system that came with decent SEO baked in (semantic structure and cross-linking, that’s all you needed back then). Most of your traffic came from Google’s search results. All of your revenue came from Google’s Adwords. It became profitable to churn out indistinct pap that passed as informative to fill Google’s search engine results, so people did.

(emphasis mine)

This was new to me. I wasn’t aware that Google did this to ride on the coattails of “independent writers”. I have long held that blogs are the only way to address the audience- assuming you have something to say. Newsletters are fine- as long as you handle the distribution/monetisation and scale problems. Therefore, either you can pander to the prevalent biases and whine about the “cultural changes” and “bringing voices to the mainstream” or do something worthwhile instead.

Google killed the brilliant RSS reader too. It had an amazing tool integrated in it which displayed the relevance and activity across the internet. Assuming that there was content which had gone “viral”, the displayed number went up “higher”. It also included other relevance metrics which would help filter out the noise. Briefly, I was with Newsblur, but currently, I prefer Inoreader over everything else.

Nevertheless, the author in the post compares these technologies to “strip mining”. The predominant technologies like RSS have been “superseded” by Twitter (a platform encouraging divisiveness) and Facebook, in the name of “communities” and interacting with “friends and families”. The author has done a brilliant job in highlighting how the corporations are using open source software (OSS) and building their own fortunes instead of giving back to the same communities.

Fake clicks. Spam blogs. Link farms. Black hat SEO. The blogging economy was filled with bad practices all around. People today don’t appreciate just how rampant these practices were. Most of us didn’t notice because we were in our tiny corner, all reading the same few popular bloggers (an early version of the modern ‘influencer’). But outside of that corner, blogs were done for Google and paid for by Google. Outside of a small number of active commenters (many of whom were toxic as hell), the traffic these blogs had existed solely because it suited Google to give blogs a high ‘PageRank’. They had no meaningful community or engagement to call their own.

These are pervasive problems even now. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find the “authentic content” and link here. Previously, the authors used to have a “blogroll” and it would drive up traffic to link to other blogs. The blogroll served as static bookmarks on the webpage. There was a system of collaborative blogging too, replete with editors and people helping you to find the audience. That cosy system was dead and disrupted by “taking away the friction”.

Here’s another:

And Microsoft… Like I wrote above, MS is just carpet-bombing the web developer community with open source software and OSS infrastructure. Typescript, Visual Studio Code, GitHub, npm, and so much more exist primarily because Microsoft executives believe this will lead to more business for Azure and other Microsoft offerings. In turn, most of the offerings on Azure (as with Amazon Web Services) are leveraging OSS to maximise the value of the platform.

(emphasis mine)

As the push towards the cloud grows, it pays to understand how Microsoft is poisoning the well. I remain circumspect about their intentions to “work with the OSS” and be “potential collaborators”.

Open-source software is a strategic lever for big tech companies. They fund when it helps their core business and strip-mine projects when it doesn’t. Cloud hosting has, slowly, been ushering in an era of extraction, where tech companies specifically target serverside OSS projects that they can leverage with little investment. Broad sections of serverside software are woefully underfinanced. Many server frameworks in the node ecosystem, for example, coast along on burned-out maintainers and sheer bloody-mindedness.

(emphasis mine)

This is critical to understand that the data, once it resides on the external partners, is away from your control. Data is critical. Don’t let it flow out.

This is a good recommended read.