January 22, 2016

Why Facebook, Apple, Google are embracing the open source revolution and why you should too.

By Pierre Paoli  Digital Strategy Director, EMEA

Pierre Paoli

Pierre Paoli

Digital Strategy Director, EMEA

EMEA Digital Strategy Director, Pierre Paoli, discusses the return of open source development model, and what it means for tech giants and advertisers alike in this edition of The Change Briefing.

What’€™s changed?

2015 was the year open source made a comeback. It refers to a development model which promotes universal access via free licence to a product’€™s design or blueprint and its universal redistribution to or improvement by anyone. Most of the Internet as we know it, was born and has grown thanks to Linux open source software. Although technology giants such as Apple, Facebook and Google are increasingly building ‘€œwalled gardens’€ to protect their business models in a fast paced and brutal marketplace, these same companies are now also embracing the self-enhancing development model:

  • In September 2015, Google made TensorFlow, the Artificial Intelligence (AI) software powering its search engines available to the public to play with and improve
  • 3 days later, Microsoft opened up its machine learning software
  • In December 2015, Facebook made its own AI hardware open source. Apple swiftly followed, making Swift – its own coding language – open source too

All of these changes reflect a fundamental shift; the acknowledgement of a more decentralised model of development where the public becomes a lot more involved.

What this change means?

As our digital world grows rapidly more complex, major players such Facebook, Google, and Microsoft are facing tough challenges in manipulating the mountains of data and ways of doing things. Not only does open source allow for a quick and usually cheap (or free) self-enhancing development process but it also, in theory, allows to develop insights and products for the public, by the public.

There are three main effects to this change;

  • A faster pace of change: Going open source means increasing the speed at which ideas are generated, tested & improved. Sharing the thinking, and sometimes the production means will help Apple and Google encourage developers to produce better applications, faster and cheaper, by in effect out-sourcing part of the work. The faster they innovate and distribute, the faster the public adopts.
  • New tools, new insights: Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Tesla to name a few have now all revealed strategies around AI. This means the rise of smart assistants is already underway. Whether it be Facebook M, Apple Siri, OK Google, Amazon Echo, Microsoft Cortana or Tesla Summon, they already are testing and calibrating. This will both produce highly convenient or even entirely new services but also swathes of new data and smarter insights. Parallel to that, smart devices (phones, sensors, Internet of Things, wearables, etc.) will also generate more and new data. Open sourcing it will make its deciphering a lot more manageable, and more efficient. Moment marketing has a bright future.
  • A more participative approach: Tech giants acknowledge the recombinant power of people’€™s minds put together, far exceeds a relatively small amount of even the brightest minds on the planet. Genero.tv is a great example of how a platform allowing brands to post their creative video brief online connects them with hundreds of thousands of talented filmmakers across the globe.

What implications for advertisers?

Whether they want it or not, marketers now manage ‘€œopen source brands’€ for which the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified by anyone who wants to.

For marketers, this spawns both drawbacks and benefits. On one hand, marketers need to accept relinquishing a certain degree of control in the way data is collected, messages are created, tailored and targeted, channels are being used and, largely due to social media, how audiences engage with brands. On the other hand, being ‘€œopen source’€ can greatly benefit their business:

1-Quality and depth of marketing:

As brands can now both source insights and field-test them from swathes of real (and real time) consumers’€™ behaviours online, they can now apply a degree of confidence and reliability, but also explore new behaviours, more efficient ways of profiling and monitor closely when changes are needed. New platforms such as Yik Yak, Kik and Imgur are great niche open source test beds with the right level of agility and skills to analyse it. Old Spice is already testing these new platforms. IBM Watson is a powerful open source predictive and cognitive tool for businesses. Under Armour and HTC recently announced a partnership with Watson to enter retail stores and test smart money.

2-Customization and flexibility:

Being open source also means that brands can operate outside the boundaries of the one-size-fits-all model. Customisation at scale pays great dividends; Coca Cola, NikeID, Ikea, Etsy, Made.com, are proof of success for mass customisation. Paddy Power understood this early and based its entire marketing on responding to what its users were saying about it.


From an analytics standpoint, the ability to test and learn at lower cost, enables brands to do more and constantly evolve via more relevant insights as they go. Rather than having to leap, brands and marketers can improve by constant and smooth iterations.

Some of the best improvements, scientific breakthroughs and innovations came from open-source thinking. Whilst it does present threats and needs to be balanced with a good dose of commercial acumen, it also increasingly the most effective way to navigate through a fast evolving and complex ecosystem. Google’€™s ‘€œalways in beta’€ is a great manifestation of this philosophy; one that aims to never stand still and to constantly thrive for progress.