Free Versus Open in the World of Software

As discussed in Forbes’ “Free Versus Open: Does Open Source Software Matter in the Cloud Era?”, open source software has been a major player in the growth of internet-based companies and tech-savvy businesses. Despite this popularity, however, open sourcing may be losing its grip on the software market; the importance of the open source option is taking a back seat to the desire for quick and efficient access to the software and its capabilities—access commonly provided by free software. Although the terms “free” and “open source” are often used interchangeably, free software is marked by its ability to provide users expedient and easily attainable access to software utilities, while open source software is driven more by a desire to improve software from a practical standpoint.

As the consumers’ desire for the accessibility of free software grows, the market for open source software becomes less and less relevant; although the idea behind open source software has a certain grass-roots, collaborative appeal, consumers are more likely to purchase products that showcase convenience over versatility. Open source isn’t necessarily even profitable among the techie market; even open source software consumers tend to pay lots of money into certain proprietary companies, like Apple. Proponents of open source software claim that it functions well as a loss leader in the age of internet-based companies, enticing new user traffic for the relevant company, but opponents argue that the open source model works more as a marketing ploy than as a functional business model.

As a not-particularly-tech-savvy person, I have to say that I’m a little torn on this subject. Like many consumers, I have no idea how to alter any open source programs I use; I just want them to work properly when I need them. On the other hand, though, I like the idea of the software I use being functional on multiple devices. I have an Android tablet, and I spend a lot of time waiting for Apple-based apps to be converted; open source software is much more open to adaption than proprietary software, so I imagine that open sourcing improves my chances of getting some long-desired apps for Android in the near future. Overall, though, I’m your average consumer. I’m not going to check to see if software is open source before I buy it; I’m going to check and see if it works efficiently, and the software that passes that test is the one that gets my money.

The Geography of Twitter

As social networking continues to erode the barriers of geographical separation, researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute have created a data visualization that illustrates the “geography” of Twitter. These results, displayed in a treemap, were attained by collecting all georeferenced tweets posted between March 5th and March 13th of this year. That data was condensed into a randomly chosen 20% sample set, which was then spatially organized by country. In the treemap, countries are sorted by continent; the size of each country’s block indicates the number of tweets made from that country, and the variation in color reveals the proportion of georeferencing Twitter users in comparison to the total number of internet users in that country.

According to the data, the geography of tweets is nowhere near equally distributed; one or two countries are responsible for far more tweets than many of the others combined. It is interesting to note, however, that of the top six tweeting countries, only two are commonly considered centers of codified knowledge output; America and the United Kingdom took first and third, respectively, but Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, and Malaysia filled in the rest of the top six list.

This globalization of information output could have a very real impact on the scope of knowledge distribution. Social media sites like Twitter provide a free outlet of expression for anyone capable of accessing the internet, so those who previously would have been unable to globally communicate ideas can their voices heard around the world. Personally, I welcome this connection; thanks to social sites like Twitter and Facebook, I have been able to make friends all over the world. These people have provided me with cultural and social insights that I would never have gotten otherwise, and I don’t think I would be the person I am today without their input.

As the geography of information continues to change and grow with time, more research on this subject will definitely be necessary; still, I think that the results of this study are promising. More and more countries are getting in on the information trade, and their contributions are expanding our awareness of the transcultural significance of the internet upon the world we live in; now that’s something to tweet about.

The Dawn of Data Companies

I remember that when I took my first programming class in high school, I felt as if an entire world of possibilities was at my fingertips; if there was ever a need or a problem to be solved, I was now more prepared to develop software to address it.  But that was quite a while ago, and the climate has taken a dramatic shift away from the familiar world of software and into the brave new world of data which, unfortunately, puts my own personal graveyard of software ideas even further into the ground!

Nevertheless, this progression away from software towards data-based companies does make economic and business sense.  Forbes’ article, “RIP ‘Software’ Companies; Hello ‘Data’ Companies” cites the shift in cloud computing and the aggregation of data that has become more valuable as it increases in size.  Mike Hoskins is mentioned in the article as saying, “[is] Google a software company?  Is Facebook a software company?  They’re not, they’re data companies.  The value they and many other companies provide to the market is their ability to manage data and provide analysis.”

It is with that statement that we can see that our lives revolve around the distribution and processing of data.  Facebook profits from the data that users input into their systems, Google collects data from its searches, and Forbes processes such business-related data and has writers talk about it.  Once big data sets became a big deal, the point was reached where collections of data themselves can provide profitable information to many types of companies.

Today we see a demand for the manipulation of data, where companies are being paid to sell, analyze, process, and reevaluate data.  Multiple datasets are  brought together for companies to be able to piece together the bigger picture, and patterns are being discerned that were previously unknown. Because of all of these new situations and opportunities, it is all the more necessary for companies to be able to process their new and massive data sets in efficient ways. Through the effective utilization of big data analysis, businesses are able to make better and faster decisions because these massive data is being collected and analyzed in ways never before possible.

Big Data in Space

The article “Space: The Big Data Frontier” examines the implications that big data analysis will have on the progression of astronomical discovery and exploration. Specifically, the article discusses the issues that will face researchers should the funding for the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) project be renewed. As budget renewal does seem likely, scientists must finalize and implement big data solutions soon.


The data problems that are facing the LSST team are massive; while Kirk Borne, the Chair of Information and Statistics for LSST, makes clear that the technicalities of data storage are not an issue, their challenge will be finding meaningful information in all of the data that the LSST will collect. It’s estimated that the LSST will collect “around ten petabytes [approximately ten million gigabytes] of data per year”.


Author Mari Silbey also addresses another issue that the LSST team will face – the issue of bandwidth. While the telescope will be in Chile, its data will be transported to Illinois each day, and “[while] sufficient bandwidth for moving big data around may be available in a few select geographic regions, it certainly doesn’t exist everywhere researchers reside.” However, public and private institutions are working towards resolving the bandwidth problems, and researchers are also working to improve algorithmic analysis in order to streamline the data that is to be transferred.


Though I’m not a formal student of astronomy, I’ve always found the topic interesting; ultimately, I believe that the wealth of data that the LSST project intends to provide will be invaluable in our understanding of space.  Additionally, I think that the utilization of big data analysis will be essential in the success of this project; the Sloan Digital Sky Survey “produced roughly twenty thousand academic papers”, and the LSST will produce an amount of data equivalent to the entire Sloan Digital Sky Survey every three days. Without big data analysis to help process this massive amount of information, much of the LSST’s discoveries would remain unexplored. With big data analytics, however, we will better be able to parse and utilize the discovered information to further our scientific understanding of space.

Ford’s Utilization of Big Data Functionality

The nature of Ford’s expansion into the realm of big data is a very modern move for the company. While the enormous sums of data that are available for analysis in the market of American automotives are staggering, they are potentially a boon for anyone capable of making use of the information at hand.

Personally, what I find most interesting regarding this informatical expansion is the possible infringement on personal privacy for the sake of statistical analysis. The way onboard computers can record data not only of the more typical variety that a person thinks of when they consider what goes on when driving (fuel efficiency, distance traveled over time, average speeds, etc.) the vehicle that a person bought and uses for personal reasons could transmit personal information, such as particular routes taken, times that one travels and even the extrapolation of work schedules.

As I assume that the imperative for a corporation such as Ford is profit, I can understand their desire to make sense of any datum that can provide them with an edge on their competitors, especially since they are losing ground against other automotive corporations that are outstripping them in the technological area. As someone whose family has a vested financial interest in domestic automotives, I would say that I support Ford in their endeavors, but as an individual, I worry about the collection of information. It is possible that Ford could sell the information collected once they are done with it, which seems to be an increasingly popular course of action.

Big data seems to change the act of marketing from an art to a statistically modeled science. Personally, I worry that any project that collects massive amounts of information could be used in ways other than product improvement, but to affect the marketing campaign and even to affect costs of products, pricing them at exactly what a given demographic is willing to pay.

The Emergence of Mobile Creativity

As discussed in the Co.CREATE article “The Age of Mobile Creativity: Are We There Yet?”, mobile apps and ads are starting to be considered as legitimate canvases for artistic expression; for the first time, the Cannes Festival has developed a Lion award category for mobile media. This shift to viewing mobile work as potential artwork is certainly culturally appropriate, but it may be an honor given too early to be appreciated by a financially constrained mobile market. Revenue for mobile ads in 2011 came out to 1.6 billion; while this sounds impressive, it’s a mere fraction of the profit garnered by search ads ($14.8 billion) or display ads ($11.1 billion). Because so much of the market depends upon the money provided by ads, creators have little financial capital left with which to develop new, innovative concepts for mobile apps.

Fortunately, a lack of money hasn’t stopped these developers from thinking about what they want to produce and what they think will make an app succeed. According to some of the creative minds of mobile production, award-winning apps are not the ones that are visually striking or otherwise traditionally artistic; rather, they’re the apps that use the capabilities of mobile technology to provide users with new paths for social connection. As one of the mobile-using masses, I have to agree, especially when it comes to mobile games. When I want to have some fun with my mobile device, my favorite apps to pull out are the ones that allow me to play and interact with other people, like “Words with Friends” or “Draw Something.” The social component that games like these provide really enhances the mobile gaming experience!

Although the financial aspect to mobile creativity constraint is a legitimate one, some would claim that the biggest roadblock currently standing in the path of innovative mobile app development is the difficulty of providing a consistently positive experience over different brands and types of mobile device; few companies can lay claim to the resources necessary for app functionality across all platforms. Still, this is only the beginning for this outlet of expression; with time, it could very well become an artistic medium that redefines the connections between art, technology, and social media.

The Effect of Cloud Computing on Software Pricing

The transposition in today’s technology towards Cloud Computing means big things for lots of people.  There is an entire generation of new services and products that will have a sleek, far-reaching form of distribution.  This new method of disseminating software stands to do a lot for the pricing of traditional software packages and a lot for our wallets as well.

But how exactly will this change?  Instead of the burdensome bundles of Microsoft Office and other similar suites, Saikat Chaudhuri is cited in Financial Post’s article, “Cloud Computing Disrupts Software Pricing” as saying, “Instead of big suites, lightweight applications will become the norm.”  With the accessibility that comes with Cloud Computing, customers will be given more options on what specific products they want to buy.  This cuts out on the burdensome office suites, which allows consumers to pinpoint what software they need and not have to deal with the rest.  Mitchell Osak writes in his article, “Fading fast are the days when general-purpose software packages were sold in boxes with a one-time, perpetual software license fee plus expensive maintenance and upgrade charges.”  We don’t want to deal with those annoying prompts for updates and maintenance when we only plan on using the software for a limited period of time. This new distribution structure has the potential to drop all of the extraneous pieces of proprietary garbage, and what we get in exchange is a leaner system of purchasing software, one that reduces prices and caters to the needs of the customer.

As a college student, I am forward to this opportunity that Cloud Computing has opened up.  What we will see in the coming years is experimentation with subscription based services and pricing of software.  This will most certainly lead to cheaper prices for us software hungry masses.  I will have the ability to pick and choose software that I require for my classes, and not only that, but there will most likely be options for subscription services in addition to traditional licenses.  As long as the quality of the software stays the same, having more options when it comes to purchasing the software is strictly better than having fewer options, and I’m certainly not complaining.