Beware of Openwashing

Categories: Corporate Open Source Software

The Open Data Platform (ODP) Initiative was recently announced. Among other things, it provides a distribution of software centered around Apache Hadoop. This is a bit surprising, as there’s already an open, community effort to create a standard distribution, namely: Apache Bigtop. So how does the ODP differ from Bigtop?

A primary difference arises from the use of the term “open.”

At Apache, “open” means that anyone who contributes can become part of the community. There are no admission requirements beyond participation. Individuals who participate significantly and persistently are granted more say over the direction of development at Apache. Influence is earned through sweat (or at least long hours at the keyboard). The software is controlled by the people who created it and continue to develop it, who have a stake in it, who have skin in the game.

At the ODP, “open” means that companies who pay are given control. This seems an odd sense of “open.”

Why does this matter?

Apache’s model encourages thoughtful caretaking of software. The folks making the decisions have in many cases dedicated years of their lives to the software, often through the course of several jobs. These individuals are incented to do what’s best for that software because they have invested their own time and energy in it.

At ODP, money talks. Companies that may have never contributed to Apache projects can pay for influence over how those projects are consumed. This isn’t illegal, or even against Apache policy, but it’s a change from an any-can-play model to a pay-to-play model. Decisions will generally be in support of the businesses of those paying. These may be in the long-term interests of Apache software, but they may instead sometimes be in the interests of promoting other, non-Apache software. Proprietary concerns have their place in business, but calling them “open” stretches the imagination.

Not all non-profits operate under the same terms. Apache is a 501(c)(3) “Public Benefit” corporation. ODP is a 501(c)(6) “Business League.”

Don’t be confused by the use of the word “open.”

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