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Six Basic Truths of Free APIs

Six Basic Truths of Free APIs: “Amazon and Google have recently shattered a common misconception: that free APIs are a commons of goodies to be built on top of for fun and profit, like open source software.”
Web 2.0 is killing open source. We too often equate free tools with open tools. Not the case at all. Google offers great software tools to make money and capture market share. Not because they adhere to a higher ideal of a better world. The ideals of open source software (and related concerns, including content) are usurped by ease of software use (hmm, install squirrelmail or use Gmail? Set up WordPress or use Blogger? Setup Mediawiki or use Wikispaces?). Google and many other web 2.0 providers are “functionally” open, not idealistically open. At such a time as financial circumstances are not favorable, the rules and software change. Ask long term flickr users. Or developers who have built their tools on APIs that can suddenly be shutdown when the graces of the provider turn to other interests.


  1. Hello, George,

    Web 2.0 and open source are related but separate entities — I wrote about this in a couple posts last year — and

    This difference is very clear to many open source developers, but not always so clear to end users, who equate the type of “free” as embodied by GMail with the type of “free” as exemplified in code that can be freely downloaded and modified.

    The challenge before us is to articulate the advantages of FOSS tools with regards to privacy, functionality, flexibility, reliability, and, unltimatelt, total cost of ownership. As many early adopters get frustrated with the lack of flexibility inherent in apps like Blogger, the advantages of more flexible, customizable open source apps become apparent.



    Friday, June 22, 2007 at 11:28 pm | Permalink
  2. Jody Baty wrote:

    George – you make a good distinction between ‘free’ tools and ‘open’ tools. Companies like MS, Yahoo, and Google are out to maximize profit, and giving away some free services assists them in doing so. As long as these services continue to drive the adoption of their paid services, they will continue to be supported. If this is not the case, don’t expect the service to be around for long.

    Your comment about ‘Web 2.0 killing open source’ isn’t something I’d agree with. Difficulties in interfacing with loosely coupled, disparate APIs is not something unique to open-source. No matter what development environment you’re using, there are always versioning and coupling issues.

    The open source movement is still very strong. In this month’s Canadian Business magazine, Don Tapscott references that there are over 125,000 open source projects current under way – and this number continues to grow. As a newcomer to open source (in the form of a Ruby on Rails coder), I can say that this is a movement that only seems to be gaining in momentum. This year’s RoR conference sold out the 1600+ seats in the matter of a few days.

    Saturday, June 23, 2007 at 2:01 pm | Permalink
  3. Colm Smyth wrote:

    A FOSS tool is only better than one that is simply free if that tool delivers better utility.

    The philosophy (or “idealism” if you will) of FOSS serves developers, not users; it encourages them to contribute to something because they hope other developers will also act philanthropically.

    In the end, the “free” in FOSS is not about software; it is simply free developer effort. It doesn’t matter if a tool is FOSS; if it goes stagnant, it rapidly becomes worthless and so the fact that it is “free” has little value.

    Sunday, June 24, 2007 at 7:17 pm | Permalink