[linux-elitists] Metcalfe & modeling value of Freeing document _formats_

kmself@ix.netcom.com kmself@ix.netcom.com
Mon Jul 10 17:30:56 PDT 2000

On Mon, Jul 10, 2000 at 03:48:27PM -0700, Rick Moen wrote:
> I haven't gone very far with this, but I've been thinking that it's
> about time to launch an assault on proprietary file formats.  And no,
> I don't mean that all such formats are Evil and Must Die.  I mean that
> many are an obstacle to interoperability and open source / free
> software, and that an informational site could help people be aware they
> have choices, and understand them.

I'm attacking a related aspect of this problem:  the interaction of file
formats and Metcalfe's Law.  I'm kicking some ideas around somewhat
stimulated by Jakob Nielsen's essay "Metcalfe's Law in Reverse"
(http://www.useit.com/alertbox/990725.html).  Nielsen's point is that
segmenting a network into mutually exclusive components reduces the
*total* value of the network by the number of segments:  v = 1/n, where
v == value and n == segments.

A thought I've had is that the value of proprietary software, say
authoring tools, is critically related to the number of people using the
tool.  I'm trying to work out whether it's afunction of the value as an
authoring tool (how many people can read what I write), a collaboration
tool (how many people can I work with on a document without breaking
format/content to all fsck), or a reading tool (how much content can I
access).  I think the first two play a role, tend to dismiss the third
(authoring and browsing are distinct activities).  There's also the
issues of training and ability to find/hire talent.

...so how do you model this?  Is there an inflection point at which
proprietary formats are no longer valuable or useful -- the hassle
factor of people responding "I can't read your file" or "Your format is
unacceptable" is exceeded?   Or is there just a constant fall-off?

I've got some pretty pictures I'm generating with gnuplot, would be
interested in takes on modeling behavior.  Not quite sure what the best
take on this is, with several degrees of freedom:  

  o Value of tool -- authoring, collab, reading, training?
  o Value of significance -- network or individual?
  o Value of free tools/protocols?
  o Item of significance:  software or protocol?

Either way, loosening the grip on proprietary formats will weaken one
of the monopolizing lock-in tools available to proprietary software
developers and vendors.  This would be a good thing.


Karsten M. Self <kmself@ix.netcom.com>     http://www.netcom.com/~kmself
 Evangelist, Opensales, Inc.                    http://www.opensales.org
  What part of "Gestalt" don't you understand?   Debian GNU/Linux rocks!
   http://gestalt-system.sourceforge.net/    K5: http://www.kuro5hin.org
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