Every now and then, someone will ask me where I really think technology is taking us. Unfortunately, they tend to want a twenty-second answer. Lately, I tend to focus on the excitement I have about the potential of RSS feeds and how I fascinated by the potential of web services.
In fact, this afternoon, I was talking with a friend of mine who suggested that I should focus my law practice more explicitly on some advanced information technology areas and the legal issues that arise with them. He probably knew that the first words out of my month would be “you mean web services?” A while back I worked with a client who rolled out a web services app that saved them approximately $200,000 a month. My role was to develop and draft the prototype standard agreement that could be used as this company rolled out even more of these apps. For lawyers who practice the type of law that I do, those are the types of projects that are really fun. They involve creativity, judgment and ways to manage legal risks in ways that produce business benefits. I’ve never understood the approach of the “nay-saying” types of lawyers who start from the premise that in the absence of court decisions, you don’t want to do anything innovative.
That’s an aside.
Later this afternoon, I was a conference call with some of my favorite people – the other people on the board of the ABA TECHSHOW. One of Canada’s premier legal technologists, Dan Pinnington, is on that board. I received an email from him this evening with a URL for Tim O’Reilly’s recent article, “The Open Source Paradigm Shift,” which Dan noted he had read twice in the last day or so. That’s plenty enough recommendation for me.
O’Reilly’s article is an important one, that I also recommend to all. He synthesizes a lot of ideas I strongly agree with and makes them clear. As with all great articles, the artice is really about something bigger than Open Source and paradigms. My only criticism is that his conclusion is disappointing because it comes back to the more specific topics and doesn’t push his argument to its logical ends.
Because it is possible that many readers may focus on O’Reilly’s critique of looking solely through “Open Source” or “Free Software” lenses and the article may become more known for that than his underlying thesis, I encourage you to read the article carefully and hold on to your judgments for at least one pass through the article.
It’s more important to focus on the core of this article, which is encapsulated in these lines:
“Artificial intelligence pioneer Ray Kurzweil once said, “I’m an inventor. I became interested in long-term trends because an invention has to make sense in the world in which it is finished, not the world in which it is started.”[2]
I find it useful to see open source as an expression of three deep, long-term trends:
* The commoditization of software
* Network-enabled collaboration
* Software customizability (software as a service)”
When I use the term “web services,” I use it in the sense of the apps and tools that bring together these three trends. There’s a lot of very important thinking in this article. It’s fashionable these days to dismiss Kuhn’s notion of “paradigm shifts,” but get past that as well. This article is as important as anything else you may read this summer and it will reward repeated study.