Today 1,000 new millionaires (and a few billionaires) are walking the planet, thanks to Facebook’s new IPO. Facebook has fundamentally changed the way people connect to each other and presents an unprecedented opportunity for advertisers to reach highly targeted markets. That explains its over-the-top, $104 billion valuation. What is not being talked about in the business sections is the technology that made Facebook possible. If you go to the “developer’s section” at the bottom of a Facebook page you will find this statement under “Open Source:”
“Facebook has been developed from the ground up using open source software. Developers building with Platform scale their own applications using many of the same infrastructure technologies that power Facebook.”
“Developed from the ground up” — i.e., by the open-source communities that allow people to freely use, distribute and modify source code in unending cycles of improvement. If Ben Mezrich’s Facebook history, The Accidental Billionaires, is correct, when young Mark Zuckerberg was at Harvard he probably would not have purchased proprietary server and database software that stores and retrieves all the pictures, text and video of each user. Enterprise-level database servers from Oracle and Microsoft cost tens of thousands of dollars — a price out of the reach of most early-twentysomething college students. Furthermore,“The Facebook,” as the site was originally known, was created without the explicit goal of making money. Open-source products like MySql, Apache and PHP are free to all who wish to experiment or create with them without expending the time or risk of having to finance expensive software. Zuckerberg seems to have carried the open-source ethos forward with the Facebook mission statement:
“Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.”
The Facebook IPO will firmly divide the field of tech giants into two major camps: those committed to the proprietary model (Microsoft, Apple) and those built on, and committed to the open-source model (Google, Facebook). It seems that despite the billions of dollars lavished this week on Zuckerberg’s creation, Facebook’s stated mission, principles and commitment to open-source development remain true to their origins. It will be up to the Facebook users to hold the company accountable to its professed goals by learning more about the technology they are using and staying engaged with its continuing development.