In the latest episode of the Agile Digital Transformation podcast Open Social’s Founder & CEO Taco Potze makes a case for using open source software to create more ethical online communities. Not only does open source give several technical advantages to any organization eager to embrace it, but turning to open source software is also a possible social solution to an era of toxic tweets and corrosive Facebook groups. But what exactly makes Open Social, and open source technology in general, a better alternative to these proprietary platforms?
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The story of Open Social
Hosted by Agiledrop’s Tim Butara, this podcast episode features a one-on-one interview with Open Social’s Founder Taco Potze.
The podcast kicks off with Tim’s firing a series of questions about Open Social’s history, recent developments including our recent rebranding, as well as the company’s future plans. Three minutes into the show it gets really interesting, both for newcomers and those already acquainted with Open Social’s community engagement software, when the conversation turns to the open source technology underlying both our product and the birth of the company itself.
Being part of Drupal is more than just about sharing code
When Open Social pivoted from a Drupal creative agency to a Software as a Service (SaaS) company in 2016, we decided to develop our own software as a subscription-based product built on top of the robust open source Drupal framework.
Drupal is not just ‘free code’ to us, however. It is an active and involved community of innovators, engineers, developers and entrepreneurs who share, co-create and openly contribute new knowledge to the ecosystem. It is this that also serves as inspiration for Open Social’s mission! As Taco tells Tim:
“We love the Drupal conferences, to meet people, but also to share knowledge. But we also understand that sharing knowledge is not something you do every six months, it’s something that you should do continuously. So, how do we make sure that people share more knowledge online? How do we reward them for sharing knowledge? How do we acknowledge them? How do we make sure they feel trusted about sharing their knowledge?”
These are the questions that drive Open Social’s design decisions. When it comes to Drupal, we can consequently ask: how do we use community-created software to, in turn, create better and more trustworthy online communities?
Creating an open-core product allows us to share more, and scale-up Open Social
Open Social is essentially an open-core SaaS product. What this implies is that anyone from the Drupal community can adapt or deploy the core Open Social software for free. “More than a thousand organizations are doing that,” Taco tells Tim during the interview. This allows us to grow a community around Open Social, Taco continues explaining. And for organizations that want more advanced features, or need SaaS services such as hosting and maintenance, we consequently offer a range of paid subscription options. This is then the SaaS product that is built on top of our open source core.
Creating an open-core business model has allowed Open Social to share knowledge, benefit from the knowledge of others, and steadily build a sustainable business. “For us having big ambitions,” says Taco, “open source was always a no-brainer”. After all, Taco explains when Tim asks about our recent EUR 1.25 million investment, this facet of the company that convinced Peak Capital and Nimbus Ventures to invest in Open Social in 2020.
What is the value of open source to our clients?
Of course, it’s easy to justify why we as a company want to be open source. But why does it make sense for organizations to choose an open source (or open-core) alternative instead of opting for other ‘closed’ software solutions?
Open source drives innovative features and updates
Being part of the Drupal community doesn’t merely mean attending events or sharing stories with one another. It means Open Social is part of an active community of coders, thinkers, innovators and tech experts who contribute their knowledge to shared code. As Taco explains to Tim:
“You can never expect the same amount of innovation, the same quality, the same variety of modules that are available if you would start building this with a 10-15 people team.”
Some of our most impressive extensions such as Real-time collaboration was created from an open source module! Now, as part of Open Social, this extension allows the United Nations to create a collaborative online environment for the 60,000 stakeholders using their SparkBlue member engagement platform. The Drupal community contributes code, reports bugs, and helps Open Social create amazing and innovative tools that end up in the hands of our clients.
Open source creates flexibility
Talking about the ongoing decoupling project at Open Social, Taco brings up the unique flexibility that open source code enables. Because it is an open system, it is much easier for us to create modular components and customizations for clients on top of our core product (we developed and deployed the enterprise-level BIO coronavirus hub in only 2 days!).
Open Social is essentially an out-of-the-box software solution that allows clients to deploy their communities almost instantly. But it is also extremely flexible and allows clients to add upgrades and extensions that can transform their communities into purpose-built platforms. “You can add extensions,” Taco explains, “It can be Crowd Innovation, it can be Single Sign-on, Gamification, we have now Zoom and BigBlueButton integration”. Taco continues:
“I think the flexibility, the extensions, the pace of innovation, it’s just really fast, much faster than we see any of our competitors do.”
Open source creates responsible software
The last point Taco makes when talking to Tim is that we are living in a world where irresponsible technology is having a corrosive social impact. As Taco says:
“We’ve also seen the poisonous environment of Facebook and Twitter in the last years, so, how do we combat that? How do we create safe digital spaces where people feel at ease and feel empowered to share knowledge?”
Open source technology is founded on the principles of openness, transparency and ethical practices. It is not about owning and exploiting the data of users. It is not about hidden algorithms manipulating users to make more money for advertisers. Open Social is 100% GDPR proof and allows organizations using our software to take full ownership of their data. “It’s very clear and easy for the users to understand what happens to their information,” says Taco. This is why NGOs and governmental organizations choose Open Social over other proprietary software solutions. These organizations know the software they are using is ethical and protects their members. As Taco tells Tim:
“That’s also a reason why, for example, the European Commission has chosen Open Social as the platform for the institutions of the European Union.”
The European Commission has already made the first investment into this new community ecosystem. “That’s going to be a big gain as well for the open source community,” Taco says as he finally adds: “We are ready for that.”