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open source software can help grow your business faster and cheaper



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In today’s digital age, it is almost impossible to get away with running your business without some form of technology and social media. I really can’t think of a business right now that wouldn’t benefit from a well put together website and social media profile.

The problem is there is still a very large barrier to entry to get started. Websites like Square Space, Shopify, or Wix are platforms that make it easy for you to just create an account and get something online quick, but they are limited when a business needs custom features beyond just a landing page or online store.

What happens when you need custom application features

What happens when you need to build out a full platform with a customized application and feature set that is not possible on these easy to use sites? What happens when you need to create a custom mobile app that interacts with your web site? Right now that means hiring a development team to build your application because your application requirements exceed the capabilities of a platform like Square Space. This often means your development team needs to reinvent features that are already available on most websites on the internet today.

Let’s look at an example

If I have lost you at this point, let’s take a step back and give you an example of what I mean. I’m sure you are familiar with most of the features that Facebook provides. Let’s highlight a few relatively generic Facebook features has that I believe are useful for most businesses; user login, chat messages, and event management.

You can imagine that most businesses could benefit from having a platform that allows their customers to create an account on their website. You can also imagine that it would be great for the business to communicate with it’s customers over chat messages so they can post product or service updates. And I think we can also imagine that when the business has a customer event, it would be good for the business to be able to list it on their website and know who will be attending.

All of these features are available on Facebook today, the problem is that Facebook owns that source code and I can’t run it on my website. This example is true for several other platforms that we use daily. We need the features that these platforms provide, but we want to control it and integrate it with our own web application.

Let’s stop reinventing the software wheel

So what we do about this? The world needs a baseline platform that everyone can start from. This platform needs to be easy to get up an running, this platform needs good documentation, and this platform needs to be open source. We have already solved the same problem so many times, in so many companies, around the world. Why not start working together so we can all move forward together, faster.

By creating an open source web platform that is easy to integrate with other software over a well-defined API, we will can focus our energy on what is actually important, the applications. The baseline platform will get better over time because the community will improve it. Developers around the world will understand it and be able to integrate it into the websites and systems for every business. And they will have a supportive community behind them that understands the platform should something go wrong.
Businesses can then focus on the applications that sit on top of this baseline platform rather than focus on the core features that have been solved over and over again.

Some Examples that show we are on the right path

Obviously what I’m telling you is nothing new, the open source community has been doing this for a long time. But what I think is new is bringing the open source mentality into every business around the world.

We know we all need the same core features to succeed, why not work together?
I’ve found a few projects that are a great start to what I’m talking about. One is called Megaboilerplate and one is called Hackathon-starter. They are both by the same developer and within just a few minutes, you can have fully functional website.

This website has user login, it has a database driven backend, and it can be deployed on the cloud with ease. The problem still is that it lacks in many areas. It doesn’t have some of the core features we talked about above such as messaging and event management, and it doesn’t yet have a large developer community behind it.

I think Gitlab is actually one of the best examples I have found yet of a company that is really on-board with this mentality. They have an open source platform that you can get running on your own server, your own laptop, or even something such as a raspberry pi. You can view, change, and improve the source code for gitlab as you see fit.

Then you ask, how does Gitlab make money? Well they build applications on top of their core platform that they charge for! The open source community behind them makes their core platform better, then they focus their own engineering efforts on making great custom applications that they can charge for. It’s a win for them, and it’s a win for other companies around the world.

In this article I talked a lot about web applications. I did this because I believe it is one of the core software applications the world needs to accelerate our growth. But this could really apply to many other software products around the world. If we start working with other companies, rather than competing with them, I believe we can all achieve a lot more, a lot faster. And I think there is still a lot of financial incentive for this model at the same time.

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