Putting Your Golden Eggs in One Basket

Jonathan Rochkind has an interesting post on his blog about “OCLC, and what we lose without openness (a True Story).” In his post, he talks about how if OCLC was more open, with both its data and its software, that we would see greater innovation in the area of using bibliographic records. I think this is no doubt true for OCLC, but OCLC isn’t unique in this. I think we would see greater innovation in, say the Aleph integrated library system, if Ex Libris opened the code.

The question Jonathan contemplates is how can a more open OCLC survive in this open environment. If competitors arise from this open environment, what happens to OCLC if this competition seriously cuts into there revenues to such an extent that OCLC folds. While I don’t think this would be the necessary, or even likely end of OCLC, I think it is a fair question to ask. Johnathon uses the metaphor of the Goose and the Golden Egg, except he changes it a little. In his open environment, we have innovative golden eggs all over the place. In the closed environment, all of the golden eggs are in one basket. As long as we don’t drop the basket, we are OK – maybe not as innovative as can be, but some what safe. I think this is a really useful analogy to Open Movements.

Keeping our golden eggs in one basket is safe until someone comes by and tries to take them or a hard wind blows and knocks us over. They only have to deal with taking down one enemy. Whereas conquering many people to get all the eggs is much harder. The problem with this day-and -age is that libraries (and OCLC) are not in their own protected world. There are storms and competition from the outside from the likes of Google and Amazon. They are looking for our eggs, or at least they will knock us out of the way to get to wherever it is they are going. If our eggs are all in once place, they make not only an easier target, but a more lucrative one. Without innovation, we will ultimate be left with an empty basket.

Now I am not arguing that OCLC has to go all open, but they need to make innovation outside of OCLC as easy as possible, and the more open they are, the more open to innovation they will be. While OCLC has opened up some areas with their OCLC Grid Services, I would like to see more of that and less barriers around the data. Libraries, especially, should not have to jump through any hoops, even big wide open ones, to innovate. While, as Jonathan points out, OCLC has been doing many wonderful and innovative things, they are but one organization, and they do not have unlimited funds so they need to prioritize. However it is a given that their priorities can not possibly be exactly the same as all of the diverse member libraries. The membership is just too diverse and too large for that to be possible.

1 Comment

  1. Jonathan Rochkind said,

    November 26, 2008 at 16:11:33

    Thanks Ed. The biggest problem I see with ‘one basket’ actually isn’t captured by my ‘egg’ metaphor.

    When you count on only one organization to provide you your innovation, you are limited to the timelines, resources, and priorities of that organization. We are certainly used to that with our ILS and other software vendors. There’s a feature you really want, and you just have to wait for the vendor to implement it, maybe, someday.

    And the vendor, like all of us, has limited resources. And the vendor, like all of us, has to chose priorities based on a variety of factors, including their business model. I’m not talking about an incompetent vendor here, _any_ vendor has limited resources, and has to make priorities, and when you’ve got only ‘one basket’, you are limited to hoping they do what you need, eventually.

    In an open world, open data, open source, you don’t have to wait for your one vendor. Other people can work collaboratively with that vendor, to add their resources to the mix, based on their priorities. Other people, even other vendors, can go ahead and work on it themselves even without collaborating with the first vendor, again based on their own priorities and their own resources. If you need something and _you’ve_ got the resources, you can make it happen. If you don’t have the resources, there’s a chance there’s someone else who needs the same thing who DOES.

    You don’t have to wait on the timeline and constrained resources of the one closed vendor. When you’ve got open-ness, there is a synergistic effect where everyone’s efforts build on each other, and you can collectively accomplish more than you ever could with a collection of ‘closed’ data or products, that only one organization can work on.

    (Incidentally, its recognition of that that leads to such things as the Ex Libris ‘open platform strategy’. They’re trying to get the benefits of that synergy in open-ness, _without_ actually giving up the closed monopoly on their central assets. It’s an interesting combination, there may be some way to get it right, especially when it comes to software, but it’ll take some experimenting. When it comes to data, I’m less optimistic that anything short of actual openness can give you the benefits.)