The relationship between openness, competition and innovation

Stuart Theobald has written a great piece for the Sunday Times yesterday on the leak of confidential sections of the Competition Commission inquiry into the South African banking sector on (which neither I nor Bekka can get to for some reason – check it out and let me know if you’re also having a problem).

Theobald writes: ‘The irony is that putting such information into the public domain may actually help the cause of competition, as the banks can take each other on, knowing much more about their competitors.’

Theobald discusses some of the information about profit margins from the report and notes that ‘banks which co-operated the most are prejudiced the most.’ I’d be really interested in seeing how the industry and consumers react to this information and what the overall effect is going to be both for those who disclosed details (including FNB and Nedbank) vs those who kept them secret.

Open data please!

David Sasaki mentioned the lack of open data in last year’s SA blogger survey in this post, but it was glossed over, I guess, because of his more controversial statements about blogger diversity. Now, after reading the results to find out more information about the South African blogosphere, I’m surprised that no one else (that I can see) has demanded the release of the raw data.

Instead, the controversy has focused on the really weak interpretation of the data. But if it had been open, then this interpretation would have been just one weak interpretation among many others published by a diverse range of interested bloggers. Our fabulous eagle-eyed bloggers pointed out a few errors based on the slides, but what makes us believe that there are no others?

It is clear that we need better data next time round, and as someone who completed the survey before, I for one won’t rest until there is a guarantee for the raw data to be made available to all. I’m also certain that at least some of the companies supporting last year’s survey (, Afrigator, Amatomu, MoneyWeb Life, Bizcommunity) would be supportive of that too.

Next time, let’s see the data.

Open Innovation Studio opens in Cape Town


Dirk Visser of Brightest Young Minds just sent me the great news that their new co-working space in Cape Town is now open. The prices seem really affordable, the location is great, and Dirk says that ‘There are still a few more features that will come on-line in time such as a podcast studio and even a bed for overnight visitors.’ There are a range of different prices – from part-time to full-time – and most important is the commitment to ‘good coffee’.

Interested? Call them on 021 476 4760 or email

Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of their Own

I just received a copy of David Bollier’s new book which goes out for sale today. I had the pleasure of meeting David on a few occasions where he asked all the right questions about the commons movement around the world. In the future, we’ll talk to our kids about this time, so it’s great to see the book as ‘the first comprehensive history of the attempt by a global brigade of techies, lawyers, artists, musicians, scientists, business people, innovators, and geeks of all stripes to create a digital republic committed to freedom, transparency, participation and innovation.’

You can buy a copy on Amazon or New Press. The inside cover of the book says that you can download a free, CC-licensed copy from or but I can’t find the download link. Have asked David but if anyone finds it, please let me know 🙂

UPDATE: download the book for free at (thanks, Paul!)

Zoopy integrates Creative Commons

I can’t believe I missed this. A year ago, Zoopy announced Creative Commons integration enabling users to retain copyright and choose their own licenses and sharing conditions. Very cool.  (Belated) congrats, Jason and the team 🙂 One suggestion, though: doesn’t look like there’s any explanation of CC in the drop-down menus or the terms. Probably a good idea to hyperlink the licenses to the code on like they do on Flickr.

What is the ‘open web’?

‘We are helping make the Internet a place…
where you and your neighbors build the world you want.
that generates not only economic value, but also civic and social value.
that is optimized for multiple languages and locales.
that is trustworthy and has minimal risk for users.’
(Mozilla Foundation site)

Two weeks ago, Mark Surman from the Mozilla Foundation wrote to friends asking how they would explain the ‘open web’ if they had ‘a few inches on CNN or BBC’. Two days ago, he summarised the responses, saying that mostly he ‘got blank stares, which may mean I asked the question the wrong way. Or that it’s too abstract. Or just that people are busy.’

I felt the same way when I asked participants of the last iSummit to build ‘checklists on openness’ that would explain for people outside the movement exactly what constituted an ‘open web’ in their field/community and what practical steps they could take to practice openness in their own work.

Initially, people thought it was a great idea. But when we got down to business, I, too, got a lot of blank stares – thinking, too, that I’d framed the task in the wrong way, or that it was just a bad idea.

But reading Mark’s question, I can’t help but thinking that this is *not* ‘too abstract’ and that the blank stares have a lot to do with the fact that we do too much talking about licenses and products but not enough explaining and talking about what the philosophy means to ordinary people. We have some great organisations like Creative Commons and the Free Software Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation and Wikipedia that individually represent a lot about what the open web is about, but the branding of these orgs has meant that we often equate them as the epitome of openness, when, in fact, openness is much more complex, and reliant on an entire ecosystem of organisations, communities and individuals.

I think that the fact that we aren’t coming closer to working out what the ‘open web’ means is a result of this complexity and this complexity is based more on the need for many communities to work together to build these understandings rather than the fact that it is too difficult to quantify.

Right now, the open web is about the ‘cool factor’ which, although an important part of any movement building, leads us to focus on very small parts of the open web (i.e. licenses, copyright) rather than making us focus on the whole (i.e. transparency, community, collaboration).

I love the phrase in the Mozilla Foundation’s opening lines: ‘where you and your neighbors build the world you want.’ because I think that the most critical thing about the open web is that the concept/definition/explanation should be localised according to different contexts. In the same way that Wikipedia has different communities (language communities in this case) deciding (and changing their decisions about) what World War II is about, an explanation of the open web should accommodate different local, dynamic understandings of the concept.

This doesn’t mean that we will never get to a point where we can give an explanation about the open web on CNN or the BBC. It only means that we need to move to this question in a way that says upfront that, although we can have a global brand for the open web, that these explanations will always be local and dynamic, and should always invite people to question the current conceptualisation of the open web, rather than to just accept it.

Having said all that, if I had an inch on CNN or BBC to talk about the ‘open web’, this is what I would say (based on the mapping that I’ve started here):

‘Think of a place where you and your neighbors decide what the rules are and that the only rule is that there has to be a really good reason to keep people out;
Where you’re greeted with a big welcome mat that says ‘Please come in and play’ rather than ‘Keep out until you’re invited’;
Where you can prove yourself by doing and making things and showing them to the world, rather than waiting in a line to be chosen;
Where you can talk and build with people around the world who see your difference as an asset rather than a liability;
Where the default is to share, rather than to keep hold to yourself;
And where what you read, hear and see is always an invitation to participate and create, rather than a one-way broadcast.

Around the world, people are building a new place on the web that engenders the principles of transparency, openness, sharing, collaboration and participation. The open web is a conversation about how the world can be better, and how ordinary citizens can help build it as an example for others to follow.’