NetHui Insight: Open is about Intent

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At the recent NetHui conference in Auckland last week (8-10 July 2015), in a session titled "Why Not Open?" that I helped run with Rachel Prosser (DIA) and Nigel Robertson (Waikato University), I made a statement about Openness which appears to have resonated for a couple people...

In the session, we all resoundingly agreed that being "open" and using open source software that respects our freedom is a Good Thing. But we also agreed that it's an aspirational goal for most people.

I acknowledged that we live in a world dominated by "Closed-by-default" thinking. As such most of us engage with computers and the Internet through a lot of closed (proprietary) technologies. Most people use market-dominant devices by Apple, Microsoft, and Google and popular software by those same companies and others - on the desktop, device, and in the Cloud -  which is definitely not open (although much of it is only a thin proprietary layer on top of an open source foundation!).

The inertia of such proprietary solutions is daunting. It's hard to shift to becoming completely "open" - it's an especially big ask for those who aren't overly tech-savvy because most professional support services focus on where most of the people currently are, i.e. closed platforms and software, because that's where the market and the money are... It's also where most of people's data is "locked up" in formats or schema that those vendors keep to themselves as a "competitive advantage".

I've personally been trying to be 100% open in my computing habits for the past 20 years, and I have the benefit of being a programmer and an IT professional (who happens to love this stuff). Even so, there're still a few niggling closed elements. But the key word in there is this: niggle. Things that needle you, that aren't as good as they could or should be. 

We can't all be open overnight in a world where the suppliers of our technology, for the most part, want us to buy into their closed systems to maximise their revenue. So instead we adopt "open" opportunistically - when we're making a change anyway for instance. Ultimately, it's about picking our fights, and identifying low hanging fruit, ripe for change.

In the course of the session, we decided that while we shouldn't feel bad about continuing to use closed technology, we shouldn't be complacent in it either. We should always see the closed elements in our technology environment as niggles - an offended sensibility - to be addressed when the chance arises, or when they annoy us enough to warrant action. Some of us will move faster than others, but as long as our aesthetic and principles reflect our intent to be progressively more open then our action will follow. And we're moving in the right direction.

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