When I was at WebAbacus, we had some quite lengthy discussions as to whether we should make the WebAbacus platform available as open source software. In fact Dan Drury even wrote a paper for us on it. In the end we decided not to (for the time being, at least). Here are some of the pros and cons we came up with:
- Access to a much wider developer base than our (very small) in house team, to help drive the technology forward
- Cool stuff that we wouldn’t have thought about ourselves may get developed
- We could focus on value-add services & packaging (a la Red Hat) around the core platform rather than spending time developing the core data mart
- It’s cool!
- Which part of the product would be OSS? The whole thing? Our (proprietary) database? The reporting interface?
- Running an OSS project would require more investment in the short term do deliver a longer-term benefit
- We currently enjoy quite nice margins on our core software, and OSS would remove that
- Not sure about the level of interest – would we just be giving away our IP and still having to do all the development ourselves?
One of the arguments employed in favour of OSS’ing WebAbacus was that the web analytics market is now a commodity market, and so the value has passed up the chain to the services on top. I don’t agree with this view – I think there’s still a lot of innovation to be delivered in the software tools themselves, and the range of interpretations and spins on what exactly web analytics is (compared with the much more well understood notion of what a database is, or what an operating system is) means that the opportunity to differentiate through software functionality will remain for some time to come. So that means that the web analytics vendors will be keeping their IP pretty close to their chests for the foreseeable future.
I’m not sure that, with the availability of Google Analytics for free, that an OSS web analytics tool will be that appealing on the basis of its cost (or lack of it) alone. But if Breadboard BI can create a community around it which creates cool reporting plug-ins (as per my post about Mint), it could gain some traction.