The business models of open source architecture

(Sébastien Lucas / Future Architect) #1

Which business models for open source architecture ?

In web development, open source has developed dramatically fast not only because of the traditional motivations to contribute to open source projects.

But also because open source can be compatible with economical success. Not all open source projects produced a florishing economical ecosystem around them but most popular one generally achieved this goal.

Think about android, one of the open source ecosystem sponsored and maintained by google. It is one of the more vibrant open source ecosystem that power most mobile phone on the planet. Wordpress is another example of millions dollars market sit on top of an open source software. These sucess stories and many more have changed the game and attracted much more people than the early idealists of the heroic open source age.

The transposition of successful business models from one industry to another is not always a good idea. But anyway some valuable inspirations can definetly be found.

Open source architecture would certainly develop faster if a clear economical incentives would be clearer.

Let’s try to list a few possibilities.

Services for customisation

An open source project can be reused directly if the end user have the technical knowledge to truly understand the drawings, the models…

But what if it is not the case ? What if an adaptation is needed to change the project to match specific needs ?

Tweaking some projects we have not worked on can be difficult. If we have no experience with design, building or architecture, it is even harder.

In those the main author of the project is the person with more credibility and experience to be paid to customize the open source architecture project for a specific need.

Services to design original projects

You can consider the open source project to be the main entry point to more design work with no other relation than the confidence that your openess and quality of your open source design have demonstrated.

Your futur client could have discovered your works thanks to your open source works. He probably want the same quality and inspirations in a different use case.

You may think that this dynamic is pretty classical as most architects and designers have found their clients thanks to their past works.

Yes you are true. But per aps open source projects bring a new dimension in this references / recommandations pattern. First it is favoriting the new comers with fresh ideas. Indeed young architects have less recognition but more time to dedicate on project without clients.

There are also more open to new ways of thinking like open source architecture, parametric architecture…

Secondly, open source architecture projects as they can be used by anyone demonstrate a specific quality of the architect to handle generic project and to think about a system rather a simple architectural gesture and the ability to work with dedication without a client demand.

Services to build (open desk)

Do it your self it is free. Make it build by professional and delivered at home it has a price you pay to the fab lab that produce it and the platform that allowed the open source element be discovered. This is typically the type of business models that open desk for example try to set up.

It make sense as you can imagine a passionate architect, co-working space download the files and build for exemple a furniture with open source design. But an office or an individual that do not have time nor talent nor transportation means to move the materials around can be a potential client for this type of offers.

The problem that may arise though is the gap between the all included price that we are used to (time, material, machine usage, transportation) with the price of this open source package. Unfortunately the price of open source furniture compared to standard ikea furniture for example seems rather high. This is due to the lack of industrialisation of the process that prevent from optimising the cost. Non standard furniture do have a higher cost even if the design it self is free.

So this type of products is not an alternative to ikea furniture but can be competitive with more expensive furniture brand and the open source, fresh design can be a true differentiation that would interest for example creative industies offices…

Fremium model (Wordpress)

Open source do not mean everything is free. It is a common pratice in open source communities to decide of a limit between free and paid content. This limit is not fixed arbitrarily. The purpose is to create a viable business model that encourage a more diverse offers, while not negating a common ground base needed to motivate those that contribute for free.

If you need to pay to access the more important part of an ecosystem, we cannot define it as open source. If a commodity part of an ecosystem is premium but the ground base is free it could work.

Wordpress, drupal and other open source software projects have different paid-free limits but they have some paid eco system.

What do it do if we transpose this concept to open source architecture or design ?

We can sell a more detailed version of a drawing :

  • Actualized version
  • Maps with a premium services to explain them or adapt them
  • Statics drawings could be free - parametrized version with a price…

A lot of possibilities exist and the limit it self if moving. The baseline is what is free need to be the essential part in order not to hinder the open source collaborative dynamic.

The priced part need to be an unessential part of the system but time consuming or critical to the business. By buying a premium element based on open source parts, either we fullfill a legal requirement (licences…), we spare time, or we can have a more refined version of an element.