Size matters

2007 Puyallup Fair - Giant Ass Hotdog I have been pondering (and pontificating) on the business of Open Source Geo for a while now for example “There is no such thing as a free lunch“. That has prompted a couple of questions

  • How big is the Open Source geo industry?
  • What economic benefit does Open Source Geo underpin?

You might wonder why I think this important? I spend a fair amount of my time evangelising Open Source Geo, particularly within UK government. Despite government IT policies that nominally prefer open source (all things being equal etc) large organisations with big IT departments are often skeptical as to whether Open Source Geo is a viable alternative for their requirements. Concerns and questions are raised about the robustness and quality of the software, feature sets, performance, reliability of open source support services, how do I get bugs fixed and last but not least the commercial sustainability of open source as a business model. If you have built your career on the back of expertise with a commercial vendors products you may well have a string of objections, obstructions and misinformation to preserve that relationship with a vendor. I want to have every possible tool in my evangelist’s tool box to respond to the FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and of course I want to share them with anyone else who evangelises for Open Source Geo.

When a proprietary vendor “donates” some software licenses to a charity or educational body or other worthy cause, they often publicise their generosity by placing a monetary value on their donation. << A big rant could start here about faux philanthropy but it’s not the purpose of this post >> One could take the view that the free and open source donates all of its software to users but wouldn’t it be useful to be able to place some equivalent monetary value on the outputs of the open source community?

I have wanted to try to pull together some very basic economic numbers about open source geo for a while now. Then when I got the good news that my talk on “There is no such thing as a free lunch” had been accepted for FOSS4G 2016, I decided to have a crack at crowdsourcing some numbers which I hope to include in my talk in August. There are two elements to this exercise

  • Supply – How big is the business of Open Source Geo? i.e the companies and full time or near to fully time consultants working in  this space
  • Usage – How much Open Source Geo software is deployed and what value does it create or displace?

At the moment I am focussing on the supply side because it feels like a more manageable task, perhaps some others will step up and offer to help estimate the usage side.

So if you work in Open Source Geo, this is the bit where I ask you to fill out a short survey. This survey aims to gather some basic stats on companies (from one man bands to very large companies) whose activities are based on the provision of development and services in Open Source Geo (either wholly or a significant part). Even though revenue and employee numbers will often be available from public sources, I will only present the results in aggregated formats to ensure that individual company info cannot be derived from my presentation. If you are uncertain about providing information to this survey please check with a senior manager within your organisation before responding.

So why should you help me to make an estimate of the size of the Open Source Geo business? I think that size does matter when you are in the software business, potential users often gain confidence from larger numbers – more users, a larger industry with more employees and more revenues – why would this not be the case for Open Source when we are  frequently facing FUD merchants. I believe that collating some economic data on the Open Source Geo business can help all of us to respond better when confronted with questions about the commercial sustainability of our community.

If you don’t work for a company (or a division of a large company) whose primary activity is Open Source Geo Software development or services, perhaps you know someone who does, if so can you point them at this post.

The survey is here

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