Tag Archives: economics

Many-Eyes and Pork per Capita

Above is one of the many cool visualizations already in many-eyes (direct link here for rss readers that don’t display it), a social visualization site from IBM. I’d heard a little bit about the site but after today’s session at MIT thought it was time to check it out further. It’s a little slower than I like, but pretty neat regardless. Plus, the Pork / Capita numbers are pretty telling.

Software is Lettuce, not Gold

I’ve been listening to The World is Flat on audio book, as part of my summer run through of popular non fiction of the last couple of years. One phrase really struck me on the way home, which was the assessment by Brian Behlendorf that

“software is lettuce, not gold”

Software is both a commodity and perishable if not consumed in a timely manner. For the doubters out there, check out the ranks of abandoned software on sourceforge.net some time. My proud collection of shirts from software companies that don’t exist any more is a less compelling, though more close to home, reminder of that fact.

Dubner, do some research next time.

I really enjoyed Freakonomics, as it provided a much more interesting look at the world. But I’m quite sad that Dubner posted this Chewbacca argument on local foods. Some how, the fact that he can’t make sherbert effectively, means that local foods don’t make sense.

The logic is flawed all over the place. From the fact that “my sherbert sucked, so locally grown food definitely isn’t tasty”, to the complete gloss over on nutrition (which has a USDA study behind it), to using meat production cost vs. transportation to say that producing anything locally has the same balance (think for a second that most apples sold in NY state come from China, when one of NY’s big crop exports is apples). It’s really a hack all around. It’s pretty much the classic “I’m sounding really smart, so don’t actually try to follow my logic” kind of post.

While there are some good arguments against localization of food production, Dubner doesn’t actually state any of them. There is also an assumption that behavioral patterns don’t change when you start localizing your food, and that you are still buying tomatoes in the winter. That really isn’t true. Even going back to store bought lettuce in November was depressing, as it’s really that much worse. Nothing that’s supposed to have as much flavor as a tomato is even bearable off season.

I do realize he’s not actually the economist part of the team, he’s just the writer. But it would be nice if he did some actual research before posting stuff like this. It’s just embarrassing. 🙂

Beware the Anti-Market

A vendor can often be their own worst competition if they create good technology, but put it out in a way that is too limiting, in platform support or licensing, than their prospective users would like it to be. I’ve often refered to this as the Anti-Market among colleagues. The rules of the Anti-Market are more or less as follows:

If you create a technology that is useful, but 90% of your prospective market can’t use it for various reasons, they’ve got a good chance of getting together and writing a replacement for your product.

Example 1: KDE vs. Gnome

Gnome created out the anti market that KDE created. KDE is built on QT. Back in the early days of KDE, QT was licenced in rather funny ways by Trolltech. The funny license meant that Red Hat (and other Linux distros) didn’t want to ship it. Mandrake was originally just Red Hat + KDE to fill such a need. But with the bulk of the KDE user market blocked because of bad licencing, a void existed to be filled. Gnome did that. A decade later Gnome is the primary desktop environment on nearly ever major distro, and while KDE 4 has gotten some recent press, it is definitely now a minority player.

KDE was brought down because it created an anti market. People wanted that kind of function, but the way it was delivered was not acceptable to its users.

Example 2: Java vs. Mono on the Linux Desktop

How many Linux desktop apps are you running right now, or ever, that are Java based? How many that are Mono based? The only Java apps I run on the desktop in any frequency are Azureus and Freemind. On the Mono side F-Spot and Tomboy have seen a lot more use. Until very recently Java remained under a license that made including it with the Linux platform quite an issue. Mono is under an MIT license, and has been since day one. While Mono has a number of short comings, the fact that it’s so young, and so much more used than Java in the Linux desktop space speaks a bit to the anti-market that Sun created by waiting forever to open source their baby.

Example 3: MySQL vs. everyone else

In 1995 Linux was already being used to run key parts of the internet. None of the traditional ISVs were paying attention to it (DB2 showed up in 1998 on Linux, and too my knowledge, was the first big database vendor there). You know what you need to run the internet, a reasonable database. MySQL popped out of the anti-market created by there being a platform people were using quite a bit, but lacking ISV support. People needed the function, but couldn’t get it even if they wanted to pay for it.

I continue to be amazed at how much of an anti-market MySQL took advantage of.

Closing thoughts

The Linux Desktop space is full of anti-market applications, some of which have even seeped back into the Windows world, like OpenOffice, Gimp, and Pidgin. Adobe just made a very astute move and got Air out for Linux before they forced a new anti-market there. While the Linux Desktop space isn’t the highest volume space for users, the developer to user ratio in the space is very high, which means ignoring it means there is a real chance of creating an anti-market.

I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts or examples here, comments are open, have at it.