File this in “this will probably annoy a lot of people”….
The Proof of Concept grants in Northern Ireland are a good idea, let me get that bit out of the way first.
While I personally find it limiting to those that can apply for it (i.e. you need the cash first then claim it back afterwards, fine when you have £2.5K, £10K or £40K slushing around in the bank account but to most mere mortals it’s a hard one to pull off) the grant is a good way of testing the concept of a product.
What I find disappointing is the outcome of the work that’s gone in to these project, especially on the software front. The PoC is treated by some as “free” money to prop up the web developers, app developers and consultants in the province.
A lot of projects never see it past the early adopters but that means it shouldn’t stop others.
We’re talking about public money, so my question to you is this, is the product of effort from a proof of concept grant public when it’s no longer required by the originator? Why do I ask this? Well there have been some good ideas that got the PoC money, made a cracking product and then died only because of sales and marketing. Sometimes the idea is dropped because the individual thinks it’s a dead duck. The question remains though, could someone else pick up the baton and do a better job?
Open Sourcing The Idea
As the money is essentially public, cannot the product of effort be public too? If we look at projects such as LittleDeliApp and Receet the effort was done via PoC money. In isolation they were good products but were going to take insane growth to make any profit. I wrote a post last year about such ideas.
If a project is classed as dead then I firmly believe that the public element of the product should be placed out in the open for someone else (or an organisation) to give it go. The hard part is in the marketing and selling and where a good chunk of money would be spent. There’s tons of folk who will code a product up for you…. but who conducts the rest of the orchestra?
While I’ve never taken PoC money (or any other public money to build product for that matter) I’ve always tried to open source what I possibly could, using this blog as the vehicle to teach and hopefully inform. From Hadoop and Spark to recommendation engines, even sourcing bus stop locations via an iPhone app, I’ve put it on github for all to see, learn and use from. We should be doing the same from a PoC project view point. These projects could teach the next wave of coders, leaders and marketers.
Northern Ireland’s Collaborative Function
With an open sourcing of dead PoC projects the work isn’t wasted, the public money potentially isn’t wasted and the originator hasn’t lost anything apart from a touch of ego bruising perhaps.
The projects out in the open you can open the gates of opportunity for others to make use of what’s been publicly financed. Big data projects, excellently built apps. Entrepreneurs could start a business with a good head start, the development companies could pitch for maintenance work while the team gets built. More positive stories of entrepreneur’s giving it a go in the global marketplace can only be good PR pieces of Invest Northern Ireland.
It’s Happening Elsewhere
While I’ve had the thought of what to do about existing deadpooled PoC projects I’ve not written about it. It wasn’t until work with MastodonC that all of this has been brought into sharp focus, where we open source everything we potentially can. The benefits are two fold, firstly people use our software and give us honest feedback on the product, secondly developers will fork the project, add to it and improve what’s there. It’s a win win.
Projects I’ve worked on try to be open from day one. The mantra is “make the repo public”, it certainly galvanises the attention on how you develop, what you publish and how you test. Exposure to developer ridicule makes you a better programmer.
And it’s not like MastodonC to open source just the little things, full platforms will get opened up wherever possible. The idea is to make them better over the long term.
For Northern Ireland to make better products and be more collaborative it starts with the publicly funded projects, things that the originator hasn’t really lost on. These code pieces, blueprints and plans should be opened up to give someone else a change. That person might see the link that the other couldn’t see.
If you want more successful startups we’re going to have to open up and share a lot more.