Many societies believe in the idea of Afterlife. As far as the human life is concerned, I do not believe in this supernatural concepts. However, when it comes to software “lives”, I believe in eternity (a life without death). I believe that a software can live eternally without the death faced by the lesser mortals, by adopting open source licensing model. A proprietary software dies mostly with the company or with the ones that acquires the original company. However, open source software, even if it is tied to a particular company, does not die with the company. It is usually cloned or forked and developed by volunteers or another company interested in solving the problems for a niche group of customers. As long as there is an itch in the hands of at least a handful of users, open source software will continue to live. Even if no one is interested in a particular open source software, it will continue to live in one of the open source repositories waiting to be consumed by some soul sometime in the future. This is clearly not the case with proprietary software. In short, my argument is that if the software is released as open source, it can still be useful even after the developer(s) or company behind the software vanish in thin air.
With this thinking, I have been strongly advocating open source as an endgame for SaaS applications (well, for that matter any web service).
I hope that all the mom and pop web services startups take the option of data portability seriously and consider releasing their source code to public, at least, when they shut their shop.
We have seen some of the web services/saas players like Zoto, Mindquarry, Jaiku and, more recently, Etherpad, etc. release their code under an open source license before they closed down or changed hands. Today, another service is joining this elite club (as against deadpool). The service is Storytlr, a lifestreaming app that helps us manage our web 2.0 relationships and share our life online. They are shutting down the service because the developers could not afford any more time for the service. The service will finally down the shutters on 31st Dec. 2009. They also announced that they will be releasing their app under one of the open source licenses, Apache 2 license.
As promised a while ago, we are open sourcing our platform. A first version is now available at http://storytlr.googlecode.com with a detailed set of instructions on how to install.
With this code, you can host your own storytlr on your own server (or on a shared hosting environment). By default, it is setup as a single user mode, but you can easily change it to a multi user host and therefore reproduce the exact service we are hosting on the current storytlr.com.
As far as I am concerned, I am neither upset about the shutdown of the service nor excited by the release of the app under an open source license. In fact, this is the first time I am even hearing about this app. But, what excites me most is the commitment of the developers to the users of the app. Their commitment is revealed in the form of their intention to release the code under an open source license, instead of trying to sell the rights to another party. Such a move goes a long way to assure the users that they can trust such web apps with their time. This approach, open source as an endgame, can also play a major role in convincing customers to trust the cloud based applications. In this era where SaaS startups are started and run entirely from coffee shops, this guarantee will go a long way to help people trust SaaS startups. In fact, SaaS vendors can offer this as a part of their terms during signup so that people have confidence that they will not be left in the lurch. What do you think?