The upside of open

Lisa Gansky on why businesses need to embrace sharing and open systems.

Web 2.0 Summit 2010In a previous interview here at Radar, author and Web 2.0 Summit speaker Lisa Gansky (@instigating) discussed both the defining characteristics and the companies related to “The Mesh.” Mesh organizations use data, networks, and offers of shared goods and services — i.e. things people can access without owning them — to actively engage with customers. ZipCar is “meshy,” as are Netflix, Amazon Web Services and others.

There’s a number of concepts that plug into The Mesh; continuous deployment, lean startups, open web, and the like. I got in touch with Gansky to get her take on some of these broader/adjacent ideas. Our interview follows.


What’s the connection between The Mesh and things like continuous deployment, lean startups and perpetual betas? Is there a connection?

Lisa GanskyLisa Gansky: Absolutely. An organization that is capable of continuous deployment, for example, understands that we operate in an always-on, continuous touch environment. Frequent updates of the deployed offerings — especially when combined with fresh, transparent and authentic communication — clearly show where the product is in its evolution, including the holes.

Likewise, lean startups can use teams, tools, platforms and partnerships that are organized around convenient access to goods and services, rather than traditional ownership-based models. This orientation and capability allow many early-stage companies to get into the market, grab the attention of early customers and investors and grow by learning ahead of competitors.

As for perpetual betas, they have certainly become a core aspect of web-based services. Companies that put the “beta” stamp on an offering provide “air cover” for testing raw ideas, the user experience, brand positioning and specific offers. Beta has become code for: “Don’t be impatient with us. We’re inviting you into our not-ready-for-prime-time attempts and we want your feedback.”

Betas are two-way. They invite high levels of engagement and provide a cloak of cover as the product is still in the kitchen. Trials, testing and tweaking are all essential elements of these perpetual betas. Interestingly, some companies have never removed the “beta” from their products. The beta stamp seems to to create a level of freedom for the team, and wonder for the user community.

The theme of Web 2.0 Summit 2010 is “points of control.” Does sharing run counter to points of control? Or, does a point of control form when a sharing community gains critical mass?

LG: I think it means both. The differential of power in a world of sharing will become increasingly interesting to watch and important to engage with. Sharing — or at least the illusion of sharing — benefits all the parties as a new language and standards are formed, and expectations are being developed.

Once a particular person, company or architecture has established a clear lead, then sharing, I believe, has been limited between the newly established point of control and others vying for position and leverage. As we see social networks become more sophisticated and action-oriented, I’ll be curious to see if the critical mass shifts too quickly from one point of control to another.

Will Google’s dominance wane as Twitter, Facebook, Quora and other companies increasingly build social mass, brand equity and the capacity to activate large communities? It appears that as social networks grow in size and sophistication, the time it takes to launch and get traction behind a campaign, brand or technology may be shrinking. Will that erode the power of today’s clear “points of control” in short order? Or will they need to further enhance peer-to-peer to maintain community power?

Does The Mesh require an open web?

LG: The Mesh thrives in an open anything. The sharing of data, networks, tools and teams isn’t completely dependent on the web, but certainly the open web reduces the friction of sharing. It allows communities, value chains and ecosystems that are more responsive to opportunities and challenges to form and reform. They are, in many ways, more naturally formed and dissolved in an open environment.


Lisa Gansky will examine sharing’s influence on business at the Web 2.0 Summit, being held November 15-17 in San Francisco. Request an invitation.


Will the debate about open systems versus closed systems continue forever because one will ascend and the other will be used to knock it down?

LG: Let’s hope not. My view is that the closed systems are an outgrowth of last century’s premise that there is a finite amount of know-how and talent, so that isolating the intellectual property (IP) and owning it will create more value for a company and its shareholders. While it is hard to dispute that if you own an essential piece of technology, you have power, I believe that business models based on collecting royalties solely from licensing IP are becoming less important and less trusted. The necessity to build partnerships, ecosystems and systems to interchange assets (hard and soft), means that closed systems are at a disadvantage. One cannot predict from the beginning of the business which partners will be necessary or compelling. Given that, responsiveness, transparency and time-to-market favor the open model.

This interview was edited and condensed.

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  • Paul

    “My view is that the closed systems are an outgrowth of last century’s premise that there is a finite amount of know-how and talent”

    I’d say everything I’ve seen in this century has affirmed that yes, there is indeed a finite amount of talent.

    The race to the bottom… of systems costs and development costs has been a very real part of why closed systems will thrive for decades if not centuries to come. Good enough to ship often means just barely good enough to run for typical configs and heaven help you if you are an edge case.

    Innovation is lonely and expensive when it is not mere repackaging of other ideas with GUI changes.

    Perhaps startups can enjoy that, but startups are not all of us nor will they ever be.