Monetate won an award last week, as you may have noticed from the outbreak of congratulatory tweets (a big thanks for all of those). And it’s not entirely coincidental that Monetate is also sponsoring an award right now: The Monetate Open Source Prize.
Last week Monetate was named Technology Startup Company of the Year by the Greater Philadelphia Alliance for Capital and Technologies (PACT) at the 18th annual Enterprise Awards. These awards are the region’s most prestigious business honors for technology and life sciences companies, leaders, and entrepreneurs.
In his acceptance speech, Monetate founder and CEO, David Brussin, praised the team at Monetate. If he had been able to spend a little longer on the podium there’s no doubt he would also have acknowledged the major role that open source code has played in Monetate reaching so many milestones so quickly. It is no exaggeration to say that we have built both “Monetate the company” and “Monetate the product” with open source code; code like Python, Linux, Nginx, Memcache, HAProxy, MySQL, Django and the Google Closure Library.
When you compare what that code does with what Monetate’s product does–inject custom content into web pages as they are rendered in a visitor’s browser, based on criteria established by a marketer, thereby generating greater revenue from the site–you can see that open source code provided the tools and the building blocks, but not the finished product. And that’s one of the many cool things about open source. You can use it to make new things that make money and create jobs.
Because open source code has proved so valuable to Monetate we routinely encourage our engineers to contribute to open source projects. Recently, we went one step further and established a competition to encourage broader participation in open source projects throughout our home turf, Greater Philadelphia.
We put out a press release about this competition and, judging by the number of tweets the announcement generated, the Monetate Open Source Prize is going to succeed in raising awareness of open source even before the winner is announced. Here’s the deal:
Philosophically you could describe this prize as “giving back.” Pragmatically you could call it paving the way to the future, not just the future of Monetate, but the future of apps as yet undreamed of, the bringing to life of ideas that may be a million miles from Monetate’s business of website testing and content enhancement software. The rest of this post discusses the benefits of open source and some of the ideas behind it.
Open source code enabled Monetate to create a working product in just a few months, with just a few engineers, everything from the browser-based Monetate interface to the programs we use to manage the massive amounts of data needed to serve up a huge number of web pages for our clients.
Open source also allowed Monetate to take a radically new approach to eCommerce website customization, one that is not only more agile than previous generations of testing and targeting products, but also able to evolve in new directions, keeping our engineers excited about the next great thing they can create for our customers.
Of course, the term “open source” can mean many things to many people. For example, I recently spent some time reading about an open-source video camera while tweeting about an open-source software competition and using open source software to write an article about conversion rate optimization. In practical terms, one of the main implications of the open source concept is that you can build things using stuff that has been developed through a group effort, often more quickly and more cost-effectively than building from scratch or paying for licensed software. That open source “stuff” might well be software code, and the thing you build might well be a software product, such as a word processor, or a website testing tool, like Monetate.
So if people can use open source code to create new and original products that are proprietary and cost money to buy, how does open source code get developed? There is no simple answer to that question. Consider this quote from the Wikipedia article on open source:
Some consider open source a philosophy, others consider it a pragmatic methodology.
You could say that Monetate’s philosophy encompasses both views. Many of our engineers have been contributing to open source projects for years, starting well before they started to code the Monetate software. That means they were helping groups of people make software that none of the people owned, and for which none of the people were ever paid. Why do that? There’s the philosophical answer: Because it’s fun, personally rewarding, and the best way to create good code. And there’s the pragmatic answer: Because one day you might need something like the software that you helped to build.
Put both answers together and you can understand why people get so excited about open source! You can read more about the open source movement at the Open Source Initiative. Get the details of the Monetate Open Source Prize here, and do it quick, because entries are due on or before May 11. Good luck!