Open source Domestos

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I notice that poor TomTom is in the wars, having its wealth and creative energies sapped by a spot of patent litigation from you know who. It set me thinking about those who do new stuff, and those who live off their backs...

DNA, our DNA, the Human Source Code was published in draft at the turn of the millennium; I still have my paper copy somewhere. It's not pure instruction code, there are reams of repetition and yards of parasitical viral code and a load of non-functional nonsense (...ring any bells oh coders?).

It is therefore pretty much the ultimate open source project, and although God has not released the code under GPL (yet), at least genome.gov will allow anyone to copy it so long as they acknowledge the 'authors'!

The Human is usually regarded as an entity, a discrete organism, but of course it is really a community of organisms, some living together symbiotically, others merely free-loading parasites. It's parasites that this article is about.

Interestingly, in biology as in society, there are hierarchies of parasites (sort of similar to first order and second order securitised derivatives for our readers in finance).

In humans (and all complex organisms for that matter) we have, at the bottom level, viruses which parasitise cells by hijacking their DNA code and instructing it to make more viruses or stealthily ingratiating themselves into the core code and on occasion emerging as cancers.

(Viruses, by the way have no trouble reading and modifying our DNA source code once they have hacked through the firewall, aka the cell membrane).

More complex than viruses we have bacteria and moulds which make their homes in the cavities and fluids of our bodies. Up then to another order of complexity we have flatworms and flukes which stick hard to our organs. Finally we have fully fledged 3D parasites; the worms, ticks, mites and fleas. A veritable Russian doll of free-loaders.

What they all have in common is that rather than fend for themselves the parasites bet on the survival of their hosts and use all their wiles to latch on and, usually, built into their strategy is the option of moving on if their 'investment' fails.

The Open Source community is so similar in many ways to the organic community described above that it is both whimsical and illuminating to develop the analogy.

At the bottom is the source code released under the GPL for others to read, use and exploit; provided of course their creator is acknowledged.

Next up we have the first level exploiters who take the code and mash it up into a commercial device. For instance, it could be a physical product like the well-known TomTom satellite navigational aid that kicked-off this article or a virtual product like Wikipedia, Second Life and Facebook.

Going up another level we find the Venture Capitalists who bet on the success of a product and grow rich if it prospers or move on if it fails. Above them, finally, we have the investment banks who bet/invest on/in the companies themselves.

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