domingo, 11 de diciembre de 2011

Warning of three deadly mistakes of the Open Spanish community

In this article I am going to revisit several mistakes the Spanish Open community made last decade in order to avoid that similar faults would lead the Open data / open government community to lose the opportunity which we are facing today. Maybe some other countries would share some of these mistakes.

Spain had been a pioneer in the development of an open source and software libre community. Since the early 2000 numerous and relevant people had surged claiming on the adoption of open technologies, i.e. FLOSS, open standards, etc.

However today, 10 years after, Spain has no remarkable differences in the implementation of open technologies, neither in the public administrations nor between current people. As an exception to this rule could be mentioned the supportive legislation it has been passed but this support has not a correspondence with the real implementations.

Why? Due, in my opinion, to three deadly mistakes.

Error 1: Let politicians to lead the community,
When in 2002 Extremadura government announced its Linex (Linux distribution for Extremadura) most of the advocates clapped for the courage of the Extremadura's rulers to face the monopoly of Microsoft.

Unfortunately, politicians think not in their citizens' profit but in their own profit in terms of voting results. Therefore their focus was not to create a global and sustainable ecosystem but to have a political tool to show their independence and the bleeding edge technology they were adopting, independently of its long term sustainability.
They remark the regional adaptation over the possibility to have a huge users' base all over the world.
Most of the advocates of the open community, and I was one of them, considered the political use of open technologies, a collateral and affordable damage, as long as support and funds were derived to feed the open ecosystem. Even when in a crazy move, politicians presented open technologies as politically biased (mostly left-wing) most of us agree with the inconsistency.

Time went by and other Spanish regions (Andalucia, Castilla La Mancha, Madrid, Valencia, Cataluña, Melilla city) independently of their political trend  adopted identical reasoning. What they, involuntary, created was a mess of linux distributions feeded with public funds but unable to create a critical mass of users to sustain an independent market.
Final shot was the creation of a public national entity to support the open technologies approach for the central and regional administrations. What it thought as a good idea, it was launched with a low profile, so that it resulted useless to prescribe open technologies for the rest of administrations or to create those common standardisation between administrations.

Currently when public impulse has been reduced due to crisis, the communities around these distributions simply have died of starvation. Or just when elections changed the rulers, newcomers simply declare obsolete the approach and let the initiatives die without any support.

Error 2: Divide yourself and you will be defeated
Incredibly, since the beginning of the floss movement in Spain,  divergences and other kind of divisions were present and early supporters from public administrations were criticised when their first steps were not as open as expected.
Apart from the incomprehensive regional differences, other differences like  Software libre against open source, debian vs other linux distributions  community approach against company use of open technologies, etc were widely profited for the closed and privative technologies companies with lots of FUD which could be summarised in a sentence "Open technologies are neither reliable nor supported". 
Division was so present that even counting with more than 130 FLOSS users' groups by the first half of the decade it resulted impossible (twice was tried) to federate them in a significant way in order to constitute an open technologies lobby.
Such waste of resourses reinventing the wheel, in the form of new local linux distributions, terribly local events, or the forks of existing applications etc was unsustainable and today community is mostly composed by small companies.

Error 3: Let minimize your impact on society and you will be margined

Whenever you want to influence in your society you have to explain to the Joe bloggs why it matters to them. A saying states that "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity". Those (black console' lovers) who in the early days were promoting open technologies create the false image than open technologies were only for geeks and freaks.
Nowadays, when black console is history for normal users of open technologies, these image has not been removed from most of potential users.

If you add to this, a good bunch of technical terms, talking about problems which only affect programmers, and looking like an outsider, your message will be definitely put apart from the masses, independently of the incredibly performance or the indisputable reasoning it could provide.

Emerging Open data community has to avoid this three icebergs for a secure navigation
Those 3 mistakes could shed light on the path that the open data community has to travel. find here suggestions on how to avoid them.

First iceberg, politicians: Open data is the modern management
Public Open data is the main column of the open government approach. Open data advocates and activists has to avoid to be used by any political party. Public open data, and its implicit transparency is "The modern way of managing the 'Res publica'" with lots of positive impacts (economical, transparency, accountability, agility, etc).
So that, implementation into public administrations should be considered like the introduction of computers some decades ago, basic technologies for the management and methodology for the public processes but not a political issue to dispute.

Second iceberg dispersion: Active Co-operation
Normalisation (and therefore the possibility to co-operate) is a key factor in order to create critical masses of users, professional, companies, citizens or whatever. 

Although linked data approach would accomplish this task, its high cost of adoption (time, processes and cost) could restrict it from being the expected solution to the normalisation.
Standardisation for common data (opendata) it is an urgent issue. If you were an activist of the open community check Internet before launching anything, you will go further if you were not alone.

Third iceberg opendata as a geek topic: Significant impact in real economy and society
Economic impact of the opendata have to take into account not only in terms of the direct companies and services created but also their impact on fiscal fraud and informal economy. Informal economy accounts for a 23% (240.000 M€) of GDP in Spain (same as Tourism and automotive industry together in Spain).
Massive Open data is not a technical issue, is a change in the way a society is ruled, and therefore it has a reflect in real economy in terms of company creation, reduction of wasted resources and innovative public and private services which increase national competitiveness.
So the message around "Open data is not, a technical issue, but a main trend in the our current societies' governance".

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