Industry analyst Gartner has put out one of its (in)famous Magic Quadrant’s for social computing applications. In business terms, this is a fair sign that a technology is taking hold in the mainstream and not just around the edges. My colleague at ZDNet Dan Farber parses the report:
The Magic Quadrant is not based on any apples to apples comparison of products from the various vendors. Socialtext, MindTouch and Twiki, for instance, are primarily enterprise-class wikis and all have an open source option. Jive Software and Leverage Software add more of a social networking dimension with user profiles, allowing people to locate people with some specific expertise.
I found the report confusing. It will leave decision makers scratching their heads. On the one hand I can see why Gartner lumps so many technologies together. We are at the beginning of understanding how the component parts of a social computing landscape will come together. On the other hand, anyone making decisions based on this report will be hard pressed to understand how to pick point solutions. Even then, there were some glaring omissions.
WordPress for instance doesn’t get a mention yet from everything I’ve seen, it dominates personal blog usage. TechCrunch, one of the largest tech sites with over half a million daily subscribers, runs on WordPress. ZDNet blogs also runs on WordPress. Joomla and Drupal were also missed yet they run some of the most sophisticated communities I’ve seen. MTV UK is a Drupal site as is Warner Brothers Records. Another notable absentee was Blogtronix which counts Reuters among its customers.
I suspect the issue is one of price and potential income sources. WordPress, Joomla and Drupal are all ‘pure’ open source solutions. Industry analysts are hard pressed to make money from these players as they operate on very different business models to other commercial entities.
Naysayers think open source is way too risky, requires too many skills, is unsupported (pick any 2 from 3) as a justification for sticking with high priced solutions. Right on cue, TechCrunch reports that Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com has spurned an offer of $200 million:
Building a real business around open source software is doable – see RedHatâ€™s $4.1 billion market cap as an example. And rumor is that MySQL is planning an IPO of their own in the near future. For Automattic to spurn a $200 million offer means they are thinking along the lines of going public themselves, or at least a significantly higher acquisition price.
News like this shows just how out of touch traditional industry analysts are becoming.
Social computing is proving a magnet for open source developers because the barriers to entry using open source are very low. At the same time, solutions that just 5 years ago would have run millions of dollars are within reach of even the smallest business. I’d argue that open source is driving innovation among developers not seen in the incumbent world. Open source companies may not achieve the scale of the mega vendors but are the big boys the only arbiters of what is ‘good’ for business? This is something Gartner might wish to consider as the social computing market unfolds.