In 1997 Eric Raymond observed that “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”. He prophesied that software development would be dominated not by the cathedral model but instead by the bazaar and that “individual brilliance”, when amplified “through the effective construction of voluntary communities of interest” would result in superior products. He has been proven right and open source has eaten software.
Open source has won the battle of software models and is used by 94% developers – literally everywhere. FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) has proven that freely available and distributable code makes projects more stable and secure because of the power of the global developer community that anyone can join. As the Ford Foundation observes in their comprehensive report on digital infrastructure, while not flawless, FOSS has become the foundational layer and has provided the building blocks for most modern commercial products, making it easier to create new applications.
FOSS’s success depends on feedback from users who uncover issues and produce solutions and enhancements. Commercial companies, however, while benefiting from the open source community, have little incentive to contribute any enchantments back.
As a result, the improvement of open source products happens largely in closed ecosystems and behind economic walls. Companies develop their whole stack around running integrated open-source components and add features to enhance and scale their proprietary applications. These innovations, while built on core FOSS components, are captive to a specific enterprise or a siloed ecosystem and do not transit back to the original projects.
The most obvious example of this captive development is the cloud. Following the "attract then extract" rule, the large cloud platforms leverage open source products to acquire users and then lock them in proprietary ecosystems. The clouds’ developments reduce the friction of running open source products, but in return, the clouds lock users into their ecosystems of proprietary tools and services offered by the SaaS model. With scale, network effects allow them to become powerful oligopolies built on open source but returning nothing to the open source community.
As more users switch to proprietary cloud platforms, the gap between the enhanced cloud offerings and more basic open alternatives increases, eliminating the opportunity to build competitive applications outside of the few leading cloud platforms. The synergy of integrated cloud services keeps users behind their proprietary walls, and the internet shrinks to a handful of cloud platforms.
Such power concentration is fundamentally dangerous not only for open source but it also makes the whole internet fragile. These few platforms become very tempting on/off switches for internet applications and a single point for hacker attacks. The platforms increase risks of data leaks, infrastructure outages, and censorship. Given the scale, the consequences of any risk increase tremendously. Basic freedoms brought us by the internet are now threatened as we are fast returning to the enterprise intranet era.
We have seen how open systems drive far greater creativity and innovation and the Web unleashed a tsunami of innovation by liberating and connecting data silos. Most of the world we take for granted today is a result of the innovation driven by the web’s unprecedented liberating force. More recently, Git accelerated the creation of open source via transparent developer collaboration, unlocked by decentralization. And crypto is beginning a new era of financial innovation by making money sovereign, open, and transparent.
As these open tools inspired innovation, a system that distributes value to open source creators would likewise unleash a new wave of open innovation. Building new products would be easier and safer. Developers would no longer worry that some of the services on which they depend would be discontinued or censored. They could freely collaborate around applications and building blocks and be fairly compensated for their work by the revenue from companies using their services.
We believe that freeing applications from platforms will catalyze an innovation wave from the open community. Humanity will benefit from a new world of feature rich services that are hard for us even to imagine.
We need a way for the community to collaborate not just on developing source code, but on running code. This collaboration will result in new products composed from others just as lego bricks snapped together can be used to build any imaginable shape. Applications should be able to cross barriers between companies, machines, platforms and reuse building blocks using a common communication protocol.
And we should develop a way to compensate authors of applications that you use in your creations. Even with the superiority of open source, our community can not survive long-term without contribution from commercial users and compensation for maintainers' work. The Software as a Service model gave the power to platforms, now open source needs its own business model to be perpetually self sustaining.
Two components are required to succeed:
If the software runs openly instead of using a private environment, the same social effects happen as when open sourcing code. Contribution to runtime, fixing bugs collectively, and building working products on top of other working products starts making sense.
If the open runtime tracks the execution of software, authors can benefit every time someone uses their product. This enables remuneration for free software developers, incentivizes them to work more and to create better products. Part-time FOSS contributors can now devote themselves full-time to development.
Such an overall mechanism could be called Open Source as a Service (OSaaS) and would enable the monetization of any open source project as a service while allowing users to build applications free from proprietary platforms.
Fluence implements OSaaS and serves as an open runtime that everyone can run, contribute to, and benefit from. Applications that run on Fluence are independent from proprietary platforms, can switch between servers, avoid servers completely, or be hosted locally. Fluence makes any program portable and sovereign, while usage is tracked by the licensing system.
Fluence employs blockchain and cryptoeconomic mechanisms to enable the OSaaS model and allows authors to earn income from their software usage. The network-wide licensing system maintains a global tangle of application dependencies, access rights, and pricing. The Fluence native cryptocurrency serves as a payment medium: to register, revoke, and manage software licenses. Nodes enforce licensing rules while serving applications and revenue flows directly to authors and nodes.
Fluence is an open alternative to proprietary platforms, providing the widest range of applications and components. Developers seeking income or monetization of their open source work can deploy the entire collection of tools: data primitives, databases, and micro-services required for modern applications. All applications can safely reuse each other without worrying that some components on which they depend on will be discontinued or censored in the future.
The bazaar model was ideally suited for software development, but few foresaw the rise of cloud platforms which repurposed and integrated open source to trap users in proprietary ecosystems, increasing risk and stifling innovation.
Fluence is an open alternative to these siloed systems. Peer-to-peer applications powered by Fluence will scale better than traditional server-centric software, are more secure, and can avoid common privacy issues by employing local-first practices for user data. Applications will work in local networks, tolerate disconnection from the internet backbone, and bring better experience for users.
The goal of the Web is to serve humanity. We build it now so that those who come to it later will be able to create things that we cannot ourselves imagine. — Tim Berners-Lee
We believe that an open protocol for internet applications can increase the vitality of free and open source software and serve humanity as Tim envisioned.
Join the Fluence mission to empower the internet: contribute to the source code, start building applications, and help our community inspire the next generation of innovation.