Netflix completes the open source giving cycle |

Netflix completes the open source giving cycle

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Netflix gets it. They understand the power of open source.

Kevin McEntee, VP of Systems & ECommerce Engineering at Netflix wrote a blog post about how Netflix does more than just consume open source. McEntee highlights three key components of the open source way that typically equate to success. He doesn't refer to them this clearly, but the three components he's really talking about are:

  • Open standards enable more participation and adoption
  • Participation in communities of purpose has more meaning when you give back
  • Contributing to open source projects and sharing knowledge completes the cycle

In his post, "Why we use and contribute to open source software," McEntee talks about the decision to use open source and open standards:

"...there is often the alternative choice of utilizing open source software, preferably open source software that implements an open standard. Open source software projects often originate as a labor of love by software developers who are tired of seeing a shared problem solved over and over again in one off solutions, or perhaps they realize that they can offer a more simple and elegant alternative to a commercial product."

In the rest of the post, McEntee outlines some of the open source projects that Netflix both consumes and contributes back to. Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst often talks about completing the cycle by encouraging customers to contribute to open source, the power of participation, and being a catalyst in communities. Whether Netflix qualifies as a catalyst in the open source communities they contribute to is an open question, but the fact that they actually give back is a big step that other companies often neglect to take.

"By sharing our bug fixes and new features back out into the community, the community then in turn continues to improve upon bug fixes and new features that originated at Netflix and then we complete the cycle by bring those improvements back into Netflix."

McEntee continues by talking about the passion shared by the contributors of a project, and not just the  people employed by Netflix. Drupal founder and Acquia CTO, Dries Buytaert, often refers to this as "an itch to scratch." McEntee mentions open source helps address common problems with sustainable solutions that reduce the work of many by sharing a common fix to a problem:

"The great thing about a good open source project that solves a shared challenge is that it develops it's own momentum and it is sustained for a long time by a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement."

Finally, open source wouldn't be anything without a community of people. Another way that Netflix "gets it" is because they understand it's not just about their business. By contributing to a problem they share with others, Netflix actively participates and contributes to a community that improves and advances the experience for their customers, me included. McEntee explains it this way:

"We benefit from the continuous improvements provided by the community of contributors outside of Netflix."

Why don't more companies understand this? By the simple acts of participation and contribution, you can make improvements for more than just yourself or your business. It's that simple.

Why do you think companies are hesitant to share back to the communities they so willingly take from?

About the author

Jason Hibbets
Jason Hibbets - Jason Hibbets is a Principal Program Manager at Red Hat with the Digital Communities team. He works with the Enable Architect, Enable Sysadmin, Enterprisers Project, and community publications. He is the author of The foundation for an open source city and has been with Red Hat since 2003. Follow him on Twitter: @jhibbets for a fun and shareable feed of his open source (and...