Purpose-Driven Technology and Open Source

Richard Silkos of the New York Times and Tim O’Reilly have been discussing a newly coined term, “purpose-driven media” adapted from Rick Warren’s concept of “A Purpose-Driven Life”:

“These are new-media ventures that leave the competition scratching their heads because they don’t really aim to compete in the first place; their creators are merely taking advantage of the economics of the online medium to do something that they feel good about. They would certainly like to cover their costs and maybe make a buck or two, but really, they’re not in it for the money. By purely commercial measures, they are illogical.” (New York Times)

Craigslist is a great example of purpose-driven media. They are providing strong competition for newspaper classified ads; however, Craigslist’s goal was not to make large amounts of money. It was designed to be a community resource. The New York Times article and Tim’s blog both pointed to Firefox as another example of purpose-driven media.

I am not sure that open source software is really purpose-driven “media”, since media usually refers to newspapers, magazines, blogs and other sources focused on content. A more appropriate term might be “purpose-driven technology” referring more to the method of creation (open source software) rather than a media outlet.

Open source software fits well within the Christensen disruptive innovation model by approaching the market in a very different way to fill a niche need along the edge of the market, but then grows to displace the mainstream market. This idea ties into the purpose-driven technology concept for open source software especially well when you consider the origin of many open source software projects and how they began to fill their niche market. Linux started when Linus Torvalds wanted a Unix-like system that ran on less expensive hardware for his own use. Linus did not start this project to make money or disrupt an industry; however, the end result was purpose-driven technology that may have seemed like an illogical competitor for Microsoft and Unix operating systems from an economic perspective. Many other open source software products had similar beginnings and a similar purpose-driven technology as a result.

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One Response to Purpose-Driven Technology and Open Source

  1. Anonymous says:

    I caught your reference to Purpose-Driven and Open Source and could not resist the opportunity to comment.

    Having a purpose is an essential ingredient of life and business, otherwise either would be meaningless. As a member of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church and an employee of an Open Source software company called Medsphere Systems Corporation in Southern California, I can relate.

    There are certainly common denominators between Purpose Driven concepts in a Rick Warren sense and Open Source, regardless of whether you label them Media or Technology. They all identify with making disruptive technological contributions to their personal interpretation of what is good with profit being optional. So I concur with your view and reference to technology as well as those referencing media as described in your article. Each view can be appreciated. So whatever you call it, if it provides substantial value you can still find a way to enjoy modest financial benefits. Rick Warren has made millions on his book, but reverse tithes keeping only 10%. Which based upon selling over 25 million copies world wide is no chump change. So let’s not get caught up in what to call it and just count our blessings as Americans.

    At Medsphere we clearly have a purpose and are leveraging open source while promoting mass adoption of electronic health records (EHRs) for the greater good of the health of people. In case you were not aware, medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S., with 98,000-185,000 deaths per year and running up an estimated $500 billion a year in avoidable medical costs, or 30% of all health care spending. Serious healthcare quality problems are due, in significant part, to lack of modern IT systems in the form of electronic health records (EHRs). Less than 10% of acute care hospitals and < 5% clinics and physician offices have electronic health records. EHRs have demonstrated improvements in the safety, quality and efficiency of healthcare delivery. The most significant barrier to adoption of EHRs is capital. To this end open source alternatives for the EHR make it an affordable commodity for healthcare providers. So although we have great ambitions for the growth and profits for our business, the company’s purpose is clear. I sincerely believe in the both the concepts of the book and the benefits of open source. I don’t want to use this forum to express my personal religious views, but Rick Warren’s book had a great influence on my life and ultimately gave me the conviction to change careers ending up at an open source company. Then I run into this Blog. Is this a coincidence or exactly what on earth I am here for?

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