‘Open’ as default, not the exception – oh, and please get over your self importance ;)


Open Up and embrace the universe (Credits: Allstair Nicol/FlickR)

Open Up and embrace the universe (Credits: Allstair Nicol/FlickR)

Openness is a scary thing indeed.

Opening yourself is really difficult, letting go all the more so (oh, read this beautiful testimony about it).

And even opening your information to others seems to intimidate people more than is necessary…

Many people I work with or come across have difficulties operating in ‘open spaces’ – and I’m not referring to Open Space Technology here but the virtual collaboration spaces where we can do things together (e.g. wikis, Google documents). They feel open is a hurdle for their sharing information and making use of the space.

 

I recently had such a conversation with a colleague in a project. He confessed in good faith that:

“It’s [the virtual space] supposed to be a ‘workspace’ but it is open to the public so there is not much dynamism & liberty in actually using it. It’s like the information that has to be posted needs some extra layers of censorship which then limits the frequency of use.”

So this might just be an interesting avatar of ‘knowledge is power’, or rather ‘closed knowledge is comfort’…?

In trying to answer that colleague I reflected on the many reasons why -until now unconsciously- I don’t share that point of view.

Hereby…

'Open' is getting traction everywhere (Credits: Ron Mader)

‘Open’ is getting traction everywhere (Credits: Ron Mader)

The world is opening to ‘Open’

Open is becoming the default, the rule rather than the exception. In global development, various funding organisations are actually making it a rule they enforce to have all outputs from initiatives they fund publicly accessible as ‘general public goods’. So there you have it. Open is the way the world is turning.

Resisting it is a challenging uphill pathway.

 

Get over yourself and the importance of your information

The information that we typically share in projects is for 99.99999999% of the population really not critical – so what is really the big deal about putting our informal information out there?

And on the other hand, aren’t there serious opportunity costs with having the teams involved in a given initiative not getting information that is potentially of use to them? Nothing new under the sun here. In any case – in the vast majority of cases let’s say – don’t expect your information to be so cutting-edge that it is information your potential competitors are dying to get.

Do people have the time to look for your information?

Unless you are based in China, North Korea, Eritrea or some other country that strictly controls information, it’s unlikely that anyone is actively crawling the web to find your content – let alone to do anything toxic with it. ‘Open’ doesn’t mean ‘reached’😉 People are just too busy with their lives. They will only find your content if they’re actively looking for something specific about it.

Trust the search engine algorithms to keep your work space rather intimate

So next, even if people had time to look specifically for your information, even if they were interested and actually looking for your information, the algorithms of search engines are based on mutual linkages first and foremost, on ‘referrals’. In other words the more a website is linked and pointed to from other sources the higher up it shows up. In the absence of many other websites pointing to your workspace, that workspace is more than likely to remain ‘undercover’ when it comes to search results. So you actually enjoy your privacy despite operating in an open environment and approach.

What is the likelihood that people do mean harm with your information?

And this is my biggest point here: Even despite all of the above, what is the chance that people accessing your information really want to do something harmful with it? What are the risks?

  • That they use and abuse your information without giving you credit for it? You can use Creative Commons licences to say what’s ok or not – and if you want to go down that road you can always hire a lawyer to sue whoever is breaching your agreement.
  • That they use your information to beat you on certain ‘market opportunities’? Perhaps true in the corporate sector, much less so in the global development one.
  • That they will ‘troll‘ your workspace? Well that’s a real risk, though of all the open groups I’ve been involved in in the past, I haven’t had one instance of this happening. What would you do against it?

If your fear is ‘half-baked thinking’, think again!

It could be that the legitimate concern of my colleague (who operates in the academic world where that fear is quite common) is of presenting ideas and thoughts that are not fully formed etc. But HEY that’s how innovation happens!

And more and more we find out examples that ‘quick and dirty’ is actually beautiful

Open is beautiful and it's everywhere (Credits: OpenSourceWay)

Open is beautiful and it’s everywhere (Credits: OpenSourceWay)

It’s not a 0/1 thing, you can find middle ways with open…

As a matter of reaching consensus, whether on wikis, on Google documents or websites or whatever, there’s all kinds of ways to make parts of a work space closed.

In the case I mentioned above, my colleague was reacting about a work space we are using as entirely open because we didn’t use the more expensive version with more privacy control… But that option is there and can be switched any time.

So in conclusion…

All the above makes me think that we can and should see Open really as default, and share most of our information publicly on our workspaces and other virtual platforms. Not least since ‘we share because we care‘.

That doesn’t mean ‘open knowledge’ cannot be even achieved in ever smarter ways…

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